Stephanie MacDonald stars at Kate, wife to Jodee Richardson’s King Henry VIII, in Neptune Theatre’s season-opening, mainstage production of The Last Wife, to Oct. 6. (Stoo Metz)
The Last Wife, starring Stephanie MacDonald as the indomitable, passionate and intelligent Catherine Parr, is a deliciously-dramatic, fast-paced story about women, power and survival.
Neptune’s production of Ontario playwright Kate Hennig’s 2015 drama, which sold out in its Stratford Festival debut, is expertly directed by Natasha MacLellan with powerful performances and an exciting, arty design in light and costumes with $2,000 worth of glittering Swarovski crystal jewelry.
Anyone who loves historical fiction, women’s history and a well-told story should see The Last Wife. It’d be a great women’s book club outing.
This largely female-driven production is a cause for celebration in a theatrical world of gender inequities.
Award-winning, Halifax actor Stephanie MacDonald, a fan favourite in indie and second stage theatre, takes the mainstage for her first time by storm in a demanding role she plays with strength, passion, beauty and emotional depth.
MacDonald has often portrayed damaged women in bulky clothing. This time she is an intelligent, confident, sensual and warm woman carefully pushing her agenda within the complex, dangerous world of mid-16th century English politics and doing it in beautiful, body-hugging dresses designed by Janet E. MacLellan.
The Last Wife is rooted in truth. Catherine Parr was the last of Henry VII’s six wives and outlived a man known for divorcing or killing his spouses. She was in charge of the educating the young Prince Edward and Elizabeth, Henry’s daughter by Anne Boleyn. She did get Henry to change the succession so both Elizabeth and Mary, his daughter by Catherine of Aragon, could be in line for the throne – a scene magnificently amplified by Ingrid Risk’s design of shafts of light.
Halifax actor Koumbie, in her Neptune debut, is delightful as the childlike, forthright Elizabeth and Lesley Smith (Intimate Apparel) is deliciously cool as Mary, with whom Parr develops a somewhat cordial relationship..
Koumbie, Stephanie MacDonald and Lesley Smith. (Stoo Metz)
The men in this production are good too: Newfoundland actor Jodee Richardson as the irascible, irrational, sometimes funny, often cruel Henry VIII; Toronto-based, Dartmouth native David Patrick Flemming as Kate’s secret love Thom Seymour, and HRM’s Isaac Neaves, who is amazingly natural and wonderfully boyish as the lively, loving Prince Edward.Isaac Neaves. (Stoo Metz)
The Last Wife is not really a period drama. In her brilliant and often funny script, Hennig mixes contemporary and old-fashioned language and viewpoints so Henry uses the term “gender rights” but Kate also crumples to the floor reciting a prayer from the King James Bible.
Katherine Ryan’s stern minimalist set is a canvas for Ingrid Risk’s glorious and rich lighting design and Janet E. MacLellan’s luxurious costumes. The clothing with its fascinating regal quality without traditional ermine and crowns also slides in time – sometimes it seems Edwardian, other times 1940s.
Composer/sound designer Aaron Collier’s design adds tension with lots of drumming and thunder and lightning – a kind of Hurricane Dorian for the stage – with tendrils of madrigals and church music. The movement director for both violent and steamy physical scenes is Alexis Milligan
On opening night Friday artistic director Jeremy Webb pointed out that just next door a second female-dominated show is being rehearsed as director Annie Valentina takes charge of the world premiere of Ellen Denny’s Pleasureville, Oct. 1 to 20, in the Scotiabank Studio Theatre.
The Neptune Theatre School’s YPCo production of Disney’s Frozen Jr., also featuring heroines in the relationship of princess sisters Anna and Elsa, is in the studio theatre Sept. 18 to 22 and directed by Neptune Theatre School’s director of education Laura Caswell.
Tickets for The Last Wife are online: https://www.neptunetheatre.com. Industry Night is Tueday, Sept 17, 7:30 p.m., and Talkback Night is Wednesday, Sept 18, 7:30 p.m. The jewelry is being raffled off by show’s end. Twitter handle is #HFXLastWife.David Patrick Flemming and Stephanie MacDonald. (Stoo Metz)