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The Regina Monologues and Ladies in Waiting

by on 8 October 2018

Courting Trouble

The Regina Monologues

by Rebecca Russell and Jenny Wafer, with

Ladies in Waiting: The Judgement of Henry VIII

by James Cougar Canfield

Teddington Theatre Club Double Bill at Hampton Hill Theatre, until 13th October

Review by Eleanor Lewis

The fact that Anne of Cleves apparently smelt terrible is a good way to spark children’s interest in Tudor history which may be useful if you ever find yourself having to teach Tudor history to children. Anne of Cleves or Anna in The Regina Monologues, is however just one of six women who can all hold your attention completely for slightly more than an hour in the first of two short plays presented by TTC at Hampton Hill Theatre this week.

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The Regina Monologues is a sharp, funny, well written short play which puts the six wives of Henry VIII into a modern context and imagines how the lives they lived might unfold now. All six wives are present onstage, taking turns to talk to the audience about their relationship with Henry. Annie (Anne Boleyn) is a suburban sex siren dreading the time “another woman like me” comes along once Henry tires of her. Katie (Catherine Howard) is an abused fifteen year old; Jane Seymour, in hospital gown, begins to go into labour; and Anna (Anne of Cleves) speed dates on her laptop, in full control of her life and her men, chasing the lifestyle rather than the man and with a philosophical, attitude towards life in general. Katherine (Parr) is the canny last wife, irritated by the stepchildren but willing to nurse the old man in order to reap the financial benefits after his death.

The direction of this piece was imaginative and impressive, it moved at a great pace, every performance well-researched and carefully presented. There were social media posts projected onto a background and short bursts of contemporary pop music at appropriate moments to break between monologues or to highlight significant moments. Joint directors Josh Clark and Michael Bishop were blessed with a strong team of TTC actors and since there was a consistently high level of performing skill on show, marking out specific actors is a bit like having your favourite Blue Peter presenters, it’s purely a personal preference – on that basis though, I found Helen Geldert and Tanya Gardner, as Cathy and Anna (Aragon and Cleves) highly entertaining. Tanya Gardner’s deadpan, unfazed Anna was very funny and there is not much to match Helen Geldert’s description of a woman’s experience of IVF compared to that of a man.

 

Emily Dixon played Katie’s (Katherine Howard) response to an abusive relationship well, bringing out the poignancy and shattered innocence of the situation, and her experience caused an instinctive recoil at the reality of a forced marriage between a 15 year old and a 49 year old man.

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I had a small but frustrating issue with the ‘glass’ into which the women looked at the end of the play which was positioned so it could hardly be seen from one side of the audience.

The second play, Ladies in Waiting reverts to the sixteenth century. Henry VIII has died and is introduced into what seems to be purgatory by his fourth wife Anne of Cleves. What follows is relatively predictable as Anne and the other five wives treat him to 7-10 minutes each of home truths, each of them now uninhibited by the threat he constantly represented to them in life. The difficulty with this is that listening to one couple having a ‘domestic’ is relatively exciting, another five and the interest begins to wane. The unsurprising conclusion is that Henry, the ultimate ‘alpha male’ is, despite his own achievements, in fact defined by his wives and the huge historical presence of his daughter Elizabeth I.

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In this age of #metoo there is a point aimed at but not quite made here. These are strong, interesting women all subjugated by one man and the social constraints of the time but, despite this, Catherine of Aragon managed to raise an army and put down a Scottish rebellion while Henry was away in France. Katherine Parr was the first woman in England to have a book published in her own name, and Anne of Cleves secured herself the kind of divorce package likely to bring a sparkle to the eyes of today’s lawyers to the rich and famous. These things are all mentioned but briefly, the main thrust of the narrative being the women’s relationships with Henry, relationships about which they had little if any choice. Perhaps better from the #metoo point of view would be to take Henry out altogether, make him an offstage character who is referred to occasionally. These however, are writing issues and director Linda Sirker and her clever cast did an efficient job with the material they had. This was again very much a team performance and, although the queens were played by the same actors as in the first play, there were subtle changes of character and demeanour to reflect the period. Paul Furlong was a convincing bewildered, beleaguered and appropriately unsympathetic Henry.

The staging of this work was atmospheric, a dimly lit stage suggesting the limbo all seven characters now occupy, and just six elegant chairs. The Tudor costumes were great – headdresses were particularly impressive, evidently a lot of attention had been paid to detail. This was noticeable too in the way the women clasped their hands in front of them and slightly lowered their heads when they moved around the stage.

The two plays together provide an interesting contrast the similarities between those women now and 500 years ago are striking, thought provoking and funny. An entertaining night.

Eleanor Lewis
October 2018

Photography by JoJo Leppink, Handwritten Photography

From → Drama, Reviews

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