2012 Toronto Fringe Festival: Ladies In Waiting

The Tudor wives rise up in Little Black Dress Theatre’s smashing production

Written by Kate Kudelka and Lise Maher
Presented by Little Black Dress Theatre

The cast of Little Black Dress Theatre’s Ladies In Waiting.

Tudor England has been a subject of fascination for centuries, with the tyrannical king Henry VIII and his six famous wives at the center of it all. “Divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived” may be merely a punchline now, but it describes six very different women and the unfortunate legacies they left behind. These women, each a queen in her own right, are brought to life in Little Black Dress Theatre’s Ladies-in-Waiting, on stage at this year’s Toronto Fringe Festival. With Henry at death’s door, his former wives gather together in the afterlife to air their grievances while they wait for him to join their party.

The production opens with a dying King Henry on a bed in the middle of the stage, being doted on by his current wife Katherine Parr (Anna Kay Eldridge), known as the one who survived. Surrounding Henry are trays of pretty cupcakes, on which his former wives snack as they each tell their individual stories. Henry’s first wife, Spanish Katharine of Aragon (Jan Kudelka) clutches a rosary and Bible tightly in her hands, her bitterness comes across in every step she takes. Anne of Cleves (Nadene Schuster) is the kindest of the group, often wringing her hands at the negative exchanges taking place around her. Jane Seymour (Blanche O’Sullivan) stands out in a simple white nightgown and bare feet, having died shortly after giving birth to Henry’s heir Edward. Perhaps the most famous of Henry’s wives, Anne Boleyn (Lise Maher) struts about with equal parts confidence and arrogance in a scarlet-red gown, and Catherine Howard (Norah Smith) is a typical bored teenager, constantly experimenting with different hairstyles and rolling her eyes at the company which she finds herself in.

The wives have been cloistered together in the afterlife for 10 years, and it is obvious their interactions that they know each other quite well, and which buttons to press. The relationship dynamics between the individual queens are the most interesting and engaging part of Ladies-in-Waiting, specifically the relationship between the very angry, slighted Katherine of Aragon and the woman who stole her crown, Anne Boleyn. Their heated discussion comes to a breaking point toward the end of the production—Kudelka and Maher are absolutely mesmerizing in their respective roles. And Smith steals the show as Catherine Howard, King Henry’s youngest, most naïve bride. She reveals, in a nostalgic moment, that she never thought Henry was serious about her execution, and had believed her trial and imprisonment to be a big setup for a surprise birthday party he was throwing her.

The costumes in this production are perfect in terms of their historical accuracy as well as their significance to each queen’s distinctive personality. Each actress in this production gives a strong performance, delivering lines from the beautifully-written script with elegance and dignity, even in the most heated discussions with their co-stars.

Which former wife will Henry sweep into his arms upon arriving in the afterlife? The question looms throughout the entire production. The women lament that Henry may walk wander through and keep going, but that simply means more cupcakes for them.

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