Calgary Fringe – Til Death The Six Wives of Henry VIII – Review

Henry 8


Til Death: The Six Wives of Henry VIII

August 2, 3, 4, 6, 7 and 10, 2013 

Alexandra Centre Society


Wow – if my high school history lessons had been half as much fun as this wonderfully researched and spectacularly performed show, I might actually remember way more of what my teachers were trying to impart. Til Death: The Six Wives of Henry VIII, written and directed by Ryan Gladstone and performed by Tara Travis, is a thrilling romp of a show that finds the funny in English Royal history while never once dumbing down the subject matter for the audience.

One by one we meet the dead wives of the notorious serial husband Henry VIII as they fall from the sky to a holding place prior to heaven. There’s first wife,  Spanish firebrand Catherine of Aragon (played to great effect as a Scarface-esque talking bad ass), Anne Boleyn (who Travis plays hysterically as just  a head), Jane Seymour (ever the prude), the ugly Anne of Cleaves (Travis channelling Frau Blucher, warts and all, from Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein), Kathryn Howard (think Paris Hilton at her sluttiest) and final wife and widow Katherine Parr (dutiful but besotted with another).

The wives are being held in waiting because, as the disembodied voice of St Peter (sounding very much like a Ricky Gervais rant) tells the women, only one of them will be allowed to enter “Royal Heaven” as Henry’s consort and it’s up to them to decide who.

The show then rolls out in the obvious direction with each wife making her case on why Henry loved her most and therefore deserves to join him when he arrives. What isn’t obvious however is Travis’s superbly frenetic, almost Vogue-like, transformations back and forth between wives, right down to taking care to remember which woman is holding poor Boleyn’s head. It’s a tour de force performance that had the audience laughing non-stop from start to finish. So much that so that it’s easy to forget that we are getting a very comprehensive and fascinating lesson in not only history but Royal lineage. At one point the women decide that the wife with the closest ties to royalty should be the chosen one. This sets off a tirade where each one in turn rattles off her impressive family tree of regal ties until all the women realize that they are in fact descendants of King Edward the 1st. It’s a remarkable piece of writing and a difficult narrative passage to master and it does cause Travis to work up quite a sweat. But she is well rewarded with the effort by the screams of laughter coming from an audience she holds in the palm of her hand. If perhaps just a tad too long.

By the time we get to the one hour mark in the show, we feel that it is starting to wind down, only to find that a new wrinkle in the wives’ decisions forces them to once again take turns telling more of their tale and make their case. The slight groan of ‘here we go again’ though is quickly forgotten when Travis continues to entertain and enlighten us with even more wonderful material.

When Henry finally does arrive and the wives announce their decision, Travis has given all she has, the audience is on their feet and I imagine that every teacher in attendance is thinking, why can’t I do that?



For Fringeaholics – Incredibly funny, smart, informative and one of the best performers you’ll see all Fringe. SEE IT

For light Fringers – Now THIS is a one woman performance. I’d even venture to say that if you can only see one show this Fringe – this one should be it. SEE IT

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