Live Review: The Last Wife

6 September 2019 | 3:34 pm | Sean Maroney

"Kate Hennig’s 'The Last Wife' is a historical drama with a fierce, even radical, 21st century frame." Pic by Phil Erbacher.

An infamous royal history couched in sexed-up, contemporary parlance, The Last Wife commands its audience. 

Kate Hennig’s The Last Wife is a historical drama with a fierce, even radical, 21st century frame. Initially we meet Kate (Nikki Shiels), a woman with a dying husband, and Thom (Simon London), a member of the extended Royal Family. They are in love. Unfortunately for this love, Henry (Ben Wood), His Majesty King Henry VIII, expresses an interest in Kate. What the King expresses an interest in is provided swiftly. Head of the newly consolidated Church and state, Henry’s hitherto unquestioned rule finds itself challenged by his new wife’s ideals and passions. Despite Henry’s tendency to execute his wives, Kate pursues an impressive personal agenda.

Mark Kilmurry’s direction provides the audience with great laughs and hard-hitting moments. The beats are consistently unexpected and the punchlines are deliciously off-kilter. They are seamlessly woven into the action and add a dimension that simultaneously unsettles and draws in the audience. 

Ben Wood’s King with the bung leg and growing paranoia is characterised as a hot-headed brute with a sharp wit and sharper teeth. As much as he blusters, though, he simmers. Every moment we get to hear him is a moment we want to relive. Bishanyia Vincent plays Mary, Henry’s first daughter (and a Roman Catholic) with verve. Unassuming at first, she reveals a singularly fascinating character and function. Nikkie Shiels’ performance as Henry’s last wife is full-bodied. Her Kate dares to insist on her ideals while navigating Henry’s treacherous temper, Shiels creating a character that is entirely a progressive 16th century noble, and a wife and mother of 2019.

The sticking points of The Last Wife are the tension between duties: to home and country, to her husband and children, to ideals and pragmatics. The stakes could not be higher. For Henry, his leg is rotting and death is at the door. For Kate, opportunity is close enough to touch, but overreaching will end in execution. Kate Hennig has crafted a story that is a fine example of how history can provide lessons for the future. Ensemble Theatre’s production is a well-articulated and full execution of the text's possibilities.