Last night, I had the pleasure of seeing the opening of Women of Henry VIII. The Boston University School of Theatre show is a devised piece written by the cast under the direction of Lily King (3rd Year MFA Directing Candidate). What is a devised piece you ask? Instead of beginning with a script, the actors are creators as well. They help to write, collect, and construct the entire piece. A devised piece doesn’t start with a script, it starts with an idea. The women that I saw last night were given one thing: their title. From there they began writing, collecting historical text, and compiling it all into a show that was more than just a selection of vignettes, but a cohesive story with a clear through-line.
But enough about devising, let me tell you this show is AMAZING. Absolutely fantastic. Just as this is a cast of 18 or so women, so is it a show of many many voices. I spent the first few scenes trying to discern who wrote what. I know the voices of my peers, and I thought I would try to pull it apart. But then I got confused. Was that my friend who wrote that monologue? Or was that a letter written by Henry himself? It wasn’t worth it to try to track it. This show is a mashup of voices. There is only one voice missing from this show. A male voice. And that is perfect.
Yes, a show called Women of Henry VIII at no time features the lustful, warmongering king we all know. Instead his presence is felt through his absense. We spend most of the show in the liminal space of “History,” where all these women can interact together. Elizabeth the first meets Elizabeth of York, her grandmother. Anne of Cleaves attempts to befriend Anne Boleyn, I bet you can’t guess what her icebreaker is. But they are all looking for one person, “have you seen Henry?” But no one has. The amazing thing that happens in this piece, is that as we see them search for Henry, we track the line of the crown. We see it start with Elizabeth of York, who gives it to Catherine of Aragon. It then passes from wife to wife to wife and so on. But it doesn’t stop. Next it goes to Mary Tudor, or Bloody Mary, and god does she hate that name. And finally it lands upon the head of Elizabeth. Elizabeth I. What didn’t dawn on me until about 30 minutes after seeing the show, is that 15 min before they crown her queen, a new name is being shouted, “Elizabeth?” The women forsake the man who defined them and focus on the woman who was their legacy, with each queen giving Elizabeth a piece of advice. And yes, Anne Boleyn and Catherine of Aragon stand right next to each other at the crowning.
This is a show written by women for women. And I know that is overused, but it’s true. What these women has done is unbelievable they have written, compiled, rehearsed, and performed a very compelling story in 4 weeks. It’s incredible. This show must get published without a doubt. Does the show need work? Yes. There are plenty of things that can be worked on in the writing. Could the show have done with more rehearsal time? Yes. What show wouldn’t? But what we see on the stage here is heart, so much heart, and voice. This show gives voices to the women who’s words were drowned out by the man they all loved. If you get an opportunity, go see this play. One day, you might be cast in it.