The Tudors represent a tumultuous period in British history and arguably provided the inspiration for Game of Thrones. Henry VIII ruled for 38 years and collected six wives along the way. But who of the six spring most readily to mind; Catherine of Aragon, long suffering first wife, whose divorce sparked the reformation; or the scheming, seductive Anne Boleyn; how about Jane Seymour, the perfect wife who provided Henry with a cherished male heir? But Katheryn Howard wedged between Anne of Cleves and Catherine Parr doesn’t necessarily stand out?
A play solely about Katheryn is therefore long overdue. But some context might be in order before our story begins. In 1540, Henry marries Anne of Cleves using the 16th century equivalent of Tinder. On the strength of a portrait painted by Hans Holbein the deal is duly sealed. But Henry likes her not; he does however like Anne’s Lady-in-Waiting Kathryn Howard. Henry is immedietly smitten by the teenager 32 years his junior. Henry’s marraige to Anne is quickly annulled and Katheryn lined up as his new Queen.
The play starts with Katheryn’s Ladies-in-Waiting discussing her suitability to be Queen. The narrative flashes back and forward as the machinations of court life are carefully analysed. The ladies act as both narrators and players in the piece. They are in the unique position of knowing Katheryn as a member of the royal household and now as Henry’s Queen. Each have their own perspective as Katheryn is charged with treason. Joan Bulmer (Francesca Anderson) is cool and calculating, anxious to keep her distance. Jane Boleyn (Natalie Harper) has seen it all before as sister-in-law to the ill-fated Anne Boleyn. Kit Tilney (Emmanuela Lia) is wistful and naive, refusing to believe the gossip mongers; while Isabelle Baynton (Srabani Sen) is the cautious wise owl. Queen Katheryn (Catherine Hiscock) is vulnerable and confused by the allegations made against her.
Katheryn Howard is a highly intelligent piece of theatre, using an all-female cast to shed light on the heavily masculine court of Henry VIII. It highlights the role that women played in the Tudor dynasty and a natural sense of drama invoked by the era. So was Katheryn guilty of treason? History has left us with a tantalising cliff-hanger; her demise may say more about Henry’s growing paranoia than any sense of betrayal. The jury may never return; but at least we know Katheryn better now she has broken out of the wives’ ensemble.
Writer: Catherine Hiscock
Director: Alex Pearson
Producer: Goose Bite Theatre Company
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Booking Until: 16 November 2019