THE Regina Monologues, the brilliant short play by Rebecca Russell and Jenny Wafer, was first seen in Edinburgh in 2006, and now fortunate audiences at Frome’s Silk Mill have a chance to discover it.
It helps to have a passing acquaintance with the history of Henry VIII and his six wives, whose lives have been catapulted into the 21st century it a play that captures the timeless human condition, altered only by its surroundings. As director Keely Beresford says, Henry was the Donald Trump of the Tudors, the focus and talking point of Europe.
Here Cathy, Annie, Jane, Anna, Katie and Katherine talk about their lives, from their first meetings with a vastly wealthy, powerful and charismatic man to the moment he discarded them, one way or another. The script is witty, horrifyingly accurate physically and thoroughly researched.
I came home to search for the ages of Henry’s six wives, and his, when they married, forgetting for example just how young Katherine Parr was.
But there’s no ignoring it in The Regina Monologues. Played by Bethany Heath, who was so impressive in Frome Drama Club’s 2016 festival production, The Private Ear and The Public Eye, a schoolgirl’s horror at the reality of wedding an old man, and the pain she endures, is vividly brought to life.
We watched as the bravado and stuffing were knocked out of June Claybourne’s Annie (Bolyn), as the joyful expectations of Jane (Tina Gaisford-Waller) were dashed. The play has an interesting suggestion about Anna (of Cleves,) who history says “looked like a horse” and was known as “the ugly wife”, and cleverly portrayed by Tina Scudder.
Sue Rose’s Cathy, the first wife and six years older than the 18 year old monarch at their marriage, lasted longest but died in exile, feeling she had never really had a chance.
And Juanita Chedzoy’s Katherine (Parr) was the wise one, knowing from the start that the money was what she was after, and if she had to look after children and an increasingly incapacitated old husband, so be it.
The set is a flexible wine bar, and the six wives tell their stories in sequence, punctuated by well chosen music.
It is a real treat, performed by six powerful actresses who stamp their own identities on the roles, and make us all realise that the more it changes, the more it stays the same.
See it if you possibly can. You won’t find a better festival play this year.