We’ve all heard about Henry VIII and his six wives. But you’ve never heard the story told like it is in Ryan Gladstone’s Till Death Do We Part: The Six Wives of Henry VIII. Equal parts comedy, tragedy and reality TV show, the one-woman play brings wicked humour and a humanizing touch to the women’s story.
Within the first 10 minutes of the play we are introduced to the wives, one-by-one, as they fall into the afterlife. Tara Travis plays all six at once, jumping around the stage as they bicker about who stole Henry from whom. We soon learn that the women are in a holding area where they are to decide amongst themselves which wife gets to go to “Royal Heaven” with Henry. Cue Survivor meets The Bachelor. After the women decide that they must determine who Henry loved the most, each one takes the stage to tell how they came to be one of Henry’s wives. When that fails to resolve things, the women instead share how Henry mistreated them, whether it was through divorce, beheading or neglect.
The beauty of Til Death is that it is a wickedly funny play, but still never loses sight of the hardships the famous wives faced. While the show starts out with the familiar catfight dynamic, it soon turns into a story about the respect between the six women and their refusal to be victimized. Til Death is a side-splitting and touching example of how to tell the women’s stories that history so often neglects.
Finally, a note on Tara Travis: her talent cannot be overstated. Travis switched between six incredibly disparate characters (including a dismembered head) with ease, becoming an entirely different person in mere moments. Her physical comedy reminded me of the master of the form: John Cleese. And most impressively, Travis made the transition between five accents (British, Scottish, Spanish, German and the hilarious American valley girl) look completely effortless. Her performance is absolutely astonishing and is reason alone to see the show.
Til Death Do We Part: The Six Wives of Henry VIII plays at the Varscona Hotel until August 26. Find tickets here.