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Sean Baek and Celine Stubel. Photo by Emily Cooper.

Theatre review: The Last Wife

By Courtney Merchand on November 6, 2016

Six marriages. Two beheadings. Two divorces. One unexpected death. And the one who survived it all. King Henry VIII’s ruthless reputation proceeds him, but the one that outlived him seems all but forgotten. Until Stratford playwright, Kate Hennig, reimagined and revived her story. Katherine Parr is The Last Wife.

Celine Stubel and Oliver Becker. Photo by Emily Cooper.

Celine Stubel and Oliver Becker. Photo by Emily Cooper.

Taken out of its traditional realm, Hennig places a modern twist on a historical narrative and places Katherine – she prefers “Kate” – at the crux of the play. She is the archetypical feminist, seizing every opportunity to uplift herself and the young women around her.

When King Henry VIII (Oliver Becker) finds himself wifeless with little to no options left, he presents Kate (Celine Stubel) with an offer she can’t refuse (no really, who can refuse a king?). With a dying husband and a lover, Thom (Sean Baek), on the side, she has her hands full, but uses her situation to leverage the marriage into a business contract.

Oliver Becker and Sean Baek.

Oliver Becker and Sean Baek. Photo by Emily Cooper.

Soon, Kate is in charge of educating the next King of England, Henry’s son Edward (Auden Larratt). And upon her own request, she barters to teach his shoved-aside daughters Bess (Mahalia Golnosh Tahririha) and Mary (Anie Richer).

Kate is a powerhouse, unafraid to tackle it all from the comfort of her pumps. Wife to a notoriously hot-headed King. Teacher to the future heir of England and two overlooked princesses. Mistress to the King’s right hand man. Regent to administering the country while Henry is away.

This play isn’t your average contractual romance, depicting the trials and tribulations of a modern day marriage. It surpasses that the minute your husband can have you beheaded with the snap of his fingers. There’s a power play at hand between women’s rights, politics and sex.

As the performance progressed, Stubel’s disdain for Becker very slowly washed away. Their onstage chemistry wasn’t palpable, but it wasn’t supposed to be. The pair naturally grew to accept each other, to find that comfort where intimacy grows.

Ripe with wit and pointed quips, Hennig’s writing is almost always on point with timing and dialogue. It’s no doubt that humour is an easy reservoir for her to tap into. It made your distaste for Becker’s character bearable because he executed his self-deprecating playfulness effortlessly on stage.

This play isn’t your average contractual romance, depicting the trials and tribulations of a modern day marriage. It surpasses that the minute your husband can have you beheaded with the snap of his fingers. There’s a power play at hand between women’s rights, politics and sex.

Golnosh Tahririha and Richer played off each other’s drastic differences in a comical, almost cartoonish, way. Larratt, making a memorable GCTC debut, is one to keep your eye out for in the future.

Stubel was a force to be reckoned with and hard to upstage. Masterfully mixing powerful, maternal, intelligent and fear, she delivered a compelling performance throughout.

The Last Wife turned history on its head and shines the spotlight on some hot topic issues of the past and certainly of the present. This is a must see at the GCTC this season. Settle in for the long haul as the play runs for nearly 3 hours (including intermission).


See The Last Wife at the Irving Greenberg Theatre Centre (1233 Wellington St W) until November 20, 2016. Tickets are $30–45, available online at www.gctc.ca and at the theatre’s box office. Admission to Sunday matinees is on a pay-what-you-can basis.

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