The Tudor dynasty, and particularly Henry’s rather cumbersome amount of wives, is perhaps our most well-known historical period in Britain but never has the story been so funny or uncannily modern.
Imagine a Horrible Histories for adults; the intermingling of modern tv clichés (Blind Date), quirky sporadic songs (one even written completely in iambic pentameter), interpretive dance and token discussions on bodily fluids still remain, but the sex, lust and unsightly amount of male flesh tips this production solidly into a naughtily world of a modernised and physically driven Tudor court. The plot may be familiar for those who know their history, but this comedy duo brings Henry and his harem cleverly, and humorously, into the present. If a man in a floral pink shirt and a plastic crown can be King, then why can’t he have a smart phone? Or a lie detector? ….
The play opens to Howard Coggins, a doppelganger of the infamous king, reading ‘An Actor Prepares’ by Stanislavski. He and Stu McLoughlin have suffered a blow to their egos: a poor review of their recent play in the Evening Post. McLoughlin is soon to realise, however, perhaps Richard II (their failed play) was not the iconic role Coggins’ career needed, but rather our good King Henry VIII. Thus unfolds a crescendo of songs, dance and excellently performed drama and comedy that is the roll-call of Henry’s many women – much of which is layered in innuendos and double entendre designed to be boisterous and shocking. Recalling the unfortunate fate of one particular Barbie doll and amniotic fluid splashing across the stage and front row underscores how this twosome wanted to make an impact both in performance and in story.
The use of colloquialism and occasional F-bomb nabs the audience and takes them along for the ride – it’s a rare occasion you’ll ever hear Henry VII refer to himself and Prince Arthur as Mufasa and Simba from the Lion King. But the contemporary references don’t end there – Henry VIII recalls feeling like: Jeremy Kyle, Lady Gaga and Cilla Black, while participating in Blind Date to only end up with Anne of Cleaves, and judging Britain’s Got (Clerical) Talent to find an Archbishop of Canterbury. It gives context to the story; it makes it applicable to the viewing audience and it makes it an original piece of theatre.
The set embodied minimalism to a T (no kitchen sinks needed for this production), drawing the audiences eye to these two blokes and the strange world of pole dancing and cross-dressing double drama. You forget at points at this is a story of two hard up thespians until they break character and start arguing between themselves or stop the play for a toilet break. Coggins captures the arrogance of Henry, intermixing it into the portrayal of his selfish and controlling self, while McLoughlin wows with his range of accents and variety in his acting. They drag you in as an audience member, and involve you – audience participation was key; the actors needed reassurance and reactions to play-off. In the end the play is more about being an actor, the processes you go through and the ups and downs of such a career (recall the use of Stanislavski’s book?) verses an accurate historical account of the Six Wives of Henry VIII.
What they achieved in the most part was a play about two guys having fun. Though the acting never ceased and remained seamless even during moments of breaking the fourth wall, the portrayals of these Kings and Queens were caricatures – Katherine Howard was a Geordie, Jane Seymour spoke like a farmer and Catherine of Aragon waved about cardboard placards. However this choice meant the play was a frolic; it was two acts of pure comedy and enjoyment.
Eden Phillips Harrington
For more information on this play visit http://www.livingspit.co.uk/#!the-six-wives-of-henry-viii/c16tu