What would Henry VIII be without the women who made him? Set in King Henry VIII’s personal purgatory, Ladies in Waiting takes a deeper delve into the relationships between this infamous ruler and his six wives. As Henry (James Cougar Canfield, also playwright) faces each of his wives one at a time, we are exposed to the deeper truths behind the portraits of this sextuplet of marriages.
A minimalistic set provides an exciting opportunity for the audience to focus their attention on the few items in the space. Director, Mitchell Glass, offered a few moments of visually stimulating interaction between his cast and the centralised Royal chair. Henry and Jane Seymour (Jessica McClellan) created a poignant moment of honest intimacy, using the chair as a central grounding of emotion; McClellan produced beautifully honest tears for her King during this interaction. In a contrasting, yet similarly effective fashion, Henry and Anne Boleyn (Wendy Kenney) used the chair as a centre force, emphasising the thick layer of tension between them as they circled the space with intense eye contact, balancing the spinning centre with conviction.
Cougar Canfield’s portrayal of Henry was not as I was expecting, yet I’m open minded to opposing interpretations of any historical figure. At times – as is often the case with a writer/performer – it felt as if Canfield was too in his head with the writing, which sometimes stole from his performance. A few moments saw intense commitment to the part, with a clear ability to deliver a genuinely emotional performance. His accent was questionable, and I question whether natural accents across the board would have been easier to accept.
The plot jumps straight in to the deep end of each relationship, which – despite making sense in the context of the afterlife – gave little elasticity for emotional and conversational development. The plot lacked much emotional depth, which dragged each scene on a little longer than necessary. I felt like I was learning, but not gaining much theatrically.
The stylised choral voices that stormed Henry’s head at the beginning and in intermissions throughout were effectively combined with the repeating sound of ringing bells to create a captivating soundscape. The further the play progressed, the more curious I became about the possibility of staging this piece in-the-round. Given the surrounding soundscape, centralised set piece and magnified onlooking of Henry’s intimate relationships, a 360-degree audience would have created a far more vulnerable state, giving each of the wives increased control as they step into Henry’s purgatory.
The writing itself was not bad, just underdeveloped. However, strong performances from McClellan, with a natural composure and glistening grace in her delivery and reaction, Kenney, who brought a fiery animation to her poised anger (especially vibrant when delivering lines from the chair), and Hilary Kelman (as Catherine of Aragon) with a stunningly natural swallow, pause and breath, made the piece extremely watchable. Kenney’s wicked laugh threw a cutting echo to the ear, with a presence that gave an exciting cliff hanger at the end of the first act.
With some further script development and commitment from all involved, Ladies in Waiting has the potential to become a truly powerful piece of historical drama. Despite an – at times – overly explicit narrative, the play was just the right length, and with a little theatrical progression, I would strongly recommend to any fan of this genre.
Review by Joseph Winer
Tier 5 Theatre Project presents: Ladies in Waiting: The Judgement of Henry VIII
by James Cougar Canfield – directed by Mitchell Glass, assisted by Sean O’Brien
What’s a Tudor monarch to do when he has to face all six of his wives in the afterlife?
Written by James Cougar Canfield (TETA Playfest Award Winner, Alley Theatre’s Houston Young Playwright Award Winner) and workshopped and performed by graduates of East 15 Acting School’s MFA Acting International program, Ladies in Waiting: The Judgement of Henry VIII finds King Henry VIII in a purgatory-like situation, where one by one he must confront and face off with each of his wives. Through dark humour, devastating truths, and powerful revelations, Henry comes face to face with what his legacy has become: one entirely defined by women.
Tuesday 29th March to Saturday 2nd April 2016 at 7.30pm
Running Time: 1 hour 45 minutes
Adult themes and bad language. Recommended for 12 and up.