Unexpected and character-driven, Tara Travis’ performance in the one-woman show Til Death: The Six Wives of Henry VIII portrays a story that has been heard time and time again. However, Travis and director Ryan Gladstone have created a production that uniquely deviates from the original tale.
The play is set during the Tudor Dynasty, specifically the reign of Henry VIII. Henry became the ruler of England at the age of 17 and married his older brother’s widow, Catherine of Aragon that same year. After tiring of her inability to produce a male heir, he became besotted with Anne Boleyn, who was later executed based on accusations of witchcraft.
Still desperate for a male heir, Henry sought the hand of Jane Seymour, who managed to produce a frail and sickly baby boy before dying in childbirth. Next came Anne of Cleves, a marriage which lasted only six months before being annulled. Shortly after, he married Kathryn Howard, Anne Boleyn’s cousin, whom he executed due to her adultery. His final wife was Catherine Parr, whom he remained wedded to until his death in 1547.
You may initially be concerned that a one-woman show depicting seven historical figures would be a difficult undertaking, but Travis makes it seem effortless. The play veered away from a standard production and brought the characters to life in such a way that it never felt as if one person on the stage wasn’t enough.
After the show, The Peak spoke with Travis, and she explained how she is able to perform all of the different characters. “I spent a lot of time in rehearsal walking around the room, finding [each of the character’s] gait, the way they breathe, and which body part led first. Over time I found their voices [and in time] their faces became more nuanced.”
This was particularly evident in a scene where each of the six wives began to detail their stories and how they came to marry Henry. Each of the wives had her own voice — ranging in different accents from Northern English to German — and each had different physicalities. For instance, Travis played Anne Boleyn as just a decapitated talking head without a body. Her ability to draw the audience in with her facial expressions — which were incredibly strong, and varied with each character — is to be admired.
This is a show that will resonate with audiences, in part due to a strong performance by one-woman show artist Tara Travis, and also due to Ryan Gladstone’s formidable script, which has a killer ending.
Til Death: The Six Wives of Henry VIII was performed by by Monster Theatre Productions October 10 and 11 at the new Surrey City Hall’s Centre Stage.