Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

October 6, 2017

Interview with Kate Hennig, Playwright of “The Last Wife"

WAM Theatre, Lenox
by Gail Burns

Kate Hennig is a diverse, multi-award-winning theatre artist, with over 30 years of professional experience as a performer. “The Last Wife” was inspired by the life of Katherine Parr (1512-1548), the last of the six wives of King Henry VIII. Katherine was an educated woman who had had two husbands before Henry. Hennig’s play tells the story of Kate and Henry.

SPOTLIGHT: How did you come to write this play?
KATE HENNIG: This strange journey started for me in 2011, during the Arab spring. I was looking at all these dictators, these men in the Middle East who were overthrown, and I started looking for the women. Where were the women in this story? My thoughts went straight to Henry VIII, as he is an identifiable dictator of my own cultural past.

SPOTLIGHT: And what drew you to specifically to Katherine Parr?
KATE: I learned how unique her relationship with, and influence on, Henry was among his wives. She could speak to him the way none of the others could, and he would take the sharpness of her tongue. Her influence over his daughters Mary and Elizabeth was tremendous. The letters between Katherine and Henry’s son, Edward VI, are intimate and moving.

Did you know Katherine Parr was the first woman to have her writing published in the English language under her own name? Why don’t we know more about this woman who had so many accomplishments in her own right?

SPOTLIGHT: What inspired you to move the story to the present day?
KATE: I set it in the present day because that’s the root of my interest. There are women now who are silent, like the women behind those Arab Spring leaders. I look at ISIL/ISIS – where are the women? That led me to use the contemporary voice, to try to echo what women are dealing with now in what Katherine was dealing with. It is still happening. We struggle to find a place in leadership as women and we still struggle to find a voice. We have come a long way in recent decades, but the Tudors had come a long way too. Tudor women were given fantastic educations, they were writers, they were humanists, and then BOOM the Puritans came in and it was all undone. The male animal is larger and can always physically dominate, and is prone to dominate. We see that now. This story fits neatly in to present day American politics, audiences will see the correlation.

SPOTLIGHT: Is playwriting a new venture for you?
KATE: I’ve been writing plays for 14 years, which is not long in the scope of my 35-year career in theatre. Being an actor, I have an understanding from the inside of how the play structure works and how characters work. I would be happy to act any of the roles in my work. I wouldn’t want to put any character up on stage who is boring to play or who has little to do.

SPOTLIGHT: The Last Wife had its premiere last summer at the Stratford Festival. That’s an auspicious beginning!
KATE: This is the first major production I’ve had of my work. I have a long history at Stratford. It is thrilling to have an organization of this caliber take your play and do it with some of the best actors and a top-notch creative team. It was an extraordinary experience for me. Before anyone had even seen the play, six months before the opening, we were selling out, so obviously the subject matter and the actors and the Stratford setting appealed to audiences. Then once the play was running they sold out and extended the run three times. I was gob-smacked and really humbled to have a beginning like that to my playwriting career.

The Northeast Regional Premiere of “The Last Wife” takes place at the Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre, October 13 – November 5, 2017. For ticket information check WAM’s website at