Til Death is a one woman show with minimal light and sound design, that explores the lives of the wives of Henry VIII. It opens to the king’s first wife, Catherine of Aragon, the Spaniard who has fallen from her death to what should be heaven or hell. After much bewilderment, she figures that she’ll just have to be patient and wait. In falls the head of Anne Boleyn, as she died by beheading. Shortly after, fall the rest of the wives in quick succession: Jane Seymour (a prude), Anne of Cleves (an ugly German), Kathryn Howard (a slut) and Katherine Parr (a widow).
Saint Peter explains to them that they must decide which of them will spent eternity with Henry in royal heaven, while the rest will be in common heaven. So each wife launches into an account of how ‘royal’ their blood is. It’s a tedious section of the narrative because it features long monologues by each character of who they are royally related to. It’s just names to the audience and the narrative loses critical developmental energy. When the wives move onto their story of how they became Henry’s wife and why they should be in royal heaven with him, the narrative sparks again.
Til Death is a comedic, historical accurate (with creative speculation) account of the lives of Henry’s wives. Each woman has their own distinctive characteristic, with a dramatic and comedic flare. The play has the opportunity and touches briefly on the humanity of the wives, as the narrative does briefly dip into Anne Boleyn’s feelings of being trapped by the men in her life and Jane’s anger at Henry, as when she was in labour with their child for three days, he elected to save only the child. But the depth is glossed over in favour of comedic depictions of sex and going into labour.
Tara Travis, plays all six wives and Henry the VIII, and changes swiftly into each character until she is sweating profusely on stage. It’s almost tiring to watch her do it. Sometimes her transitions are too quick so that all the characters melt together a bit, but her performance is commendable. Her facial expressions for each character is fun to watch.
Overall, Til Death is a funny, well written play that could use some edits to make it outstanding, but Travis puts in a tremendous effort to tell all the tales of the wives with flare.
Til Death: The Six Wives of Henry VIII is part of the Calgary Fringe Festival. It plays four more times in the festival. More information is available online.