I’ve an affection for the Maltings Theatre, their Shakespearean double bill marked the first live theatre I saw after the first lockdown last summer and if the weather didn’t necessarily hold out for us, the beautiful surroundings of the open air Roman Theatre of Verulamium in St Albans more than made up for it. Now as we find ourselves in the throes of a different lockdown, they’ve made the move online, streaming a spring programme of three plays.
First up is The Regina Monologues, written by Rebecca Russell and Jenny Wafer for this very theatre back in 2004, long before Marlow and Moss came up with the historemix. Their innovation was to take the six wives of Henry VIII and transplant them into the modern day, asking what might draw six women to all marry the same man – unseen throughout – and wondering whether contemporary women have it that much better than their Tudor counterparts.
The contemporary lens really sharpens the focus when it comes to talking about fertility. As we listen to Cathy Aragon’s struggles with IVF and Annie Boleyn’s abject grief at the death of her infant, it’s a deeply humane reminder of the ‘story’ in history, the detail that is rarely considered in the reductive way so many of us are taught about these six women. And as we delve into repeated spousal abandonment or worse, spousal abuse, it’s increasingly eye-opening about what Henry VIII’s legacy lets him get away with.
Anna Franklin’s intelligently directed production dovetails the separate but interwoven monologues together well and her lascivious cruise-loving Katherine Parr is a delight. At the risk of giving spoilers away, I’d suggest that the narrative around Anne Cleves is one which should be seriously examined though, representation of characters from this group has vastly changed since the play was written and the approach here sadly feels regressive.
As we dip in and out of the shadows that dominate Michael Bird’s lighting design, the quietly engrossing nature of this set of tales comes through though, pointing inevitably to how little has changed in some ways, even as so much as changed in the last 500 years.
The Regina Monologues is streaming until 13 March 2021.