Katherine Howard

by William Nicholson

21st – 24th November 2001

Opening on the wedding night of Henry VIII and his fourth wife, Anne of Cleves, and closing with the execution of his fifth wife, Katherine Howard, found guilty of adultery, William Nicholson’s play takes a slice of Tudor history and turns it into pure theatrical magic. A touching May-to-September romance; political intrigue, plots and betrayals; a pointed and sometimes comic portrayal of women’s lives in Tudor times: all these, and more, are elements of this entertaining, thoughtful and intelligent play from the author of Shadowlands.

Katherine Howard programme

The Cast

Henry VIII, King of England: Dave Hawkins
Katherine Howard, Henry’s fifth wife: Tracey Pearce
Thomas Culpeper, Katherine’s lover: Michael Sheperia
Anne of Cleves, Henry’s fourth wife: Jasmine Gartshore
Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk, Earl Marshal of England: Mike Long
Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury: Eric Saxton
Lady Jane Rochford, Lady-in-Waiting to the Queen: Liz Saxton
Sir Thomas Wriothesley, Privy Counsellor: Peter Whitworth
Mrs Mary Hall, A chatterer: Brenda Prior
William, Cranmer’s private secretary: Nick Roberts
Captain of the Guard: Ian Hickling
Household Guards: Mark Bailey / Philip Prior / Sam Langley
Maidservants: Becky Palmer / Cathy Leatham

Produced by Enid Farr

This preview was in the Newbury Weekly News

On which side did Henry sleep?
 Good costume drama takes a lot of preparation, using every asset available to a company. Where do you get the right headdress for a portly German princess? Or the correct sword for the captain of the palace guard? Which of Henry VIIIs legs was poisoned? Did he sleep on the left or right of the marriage bed(s)?Compton players have been planning their latest production for six months and have been in rehearsal for the past three for William Nicholson’s thoughtful and intelligent play Katherine Howard, which opens on the wedding night of Henry VIII and his fourth wife, Anne of Cleves, and closes with the execution of his fifth wife, Katherine Howard, found guilty of adultery.It’s a slice of Tudor history-turned-theatre by the author of Shadowlands with a touching May-to-September romance, political intrigue, plots and betrayals – a pointed and sometimes comic portrayal of women’s lives in Tudor times.

Dave Hawkins plays Henry VIII with Tracey Pearce as Katherine. Mike Long is Norfolk, and Eric Saxton a devious and surprisingly ruthless Cranmer. Liz Saxton plays Lady Rochford, one of Norfolk’s fellow, if somewhat reluctant, plotters and Jasmine Gartshore takes on the role of the unfortunate Anne of Cleves. Three newcomers make their debuts – Michael Sheperia as Katherine’s sometime lover Thomas Culpeper, and Becky Palmer and Catherine Leatham as maidservants.

Newbury Weekly News review

Destroyed by a man’s desires

Compton Players are to be congratulated on this ambitious production. Without strong main characters, especially Henry VIII, the play would have fallen flat on its face, but there was no such danger.

This gem of a script was written by the author of Shadowlands, William Nicholson, who portrays Henry, not as a monster, but as a man with whom we sympathise. He is aware of his gross, ageing appearance and putrefying leg, and desires above all to be valued and loved as a man, not a king. His soliloquies reveal his vulnerability.

He falls in love with lady-in-waiting Katherine, and marries her. When court intrigue and subtle manipulation cast suspicion on the Queen’s loyalty, he is devastated and allows her execution. He is left pondering on the need of God to be loved, but he also was betrayed by humankind.

The script contained some very amusing lines, not all of which were timed to give the audience the opportunity to appreciate them.

Produced ‘in the thrust’, the action took place on the stage, divided into two areas, and floor, which gave space for processions and dancing The actors showed no nervousness at the close proximity of the audience.

The hand-made costumes were excellent, but I was surprised that Katherine had only two outfits. The second was worn throughout her courtship and marriage.
Dave Hawkins’ Henry in his dotage was a tour-de-force and entirely believable, almost loveable. Tracey Pearce gave a dignified and sympathetic portrayal of the ingenious [sic] Katherine, but lacked the implicit youthful sparkle. Liz Saxton’s Lady Rochford was a strong performance and one could only sympathise as she was tricked into betraying the Queen, but was still unable to save her own head.

Michael Sheperia gave a competent portrayal as Thomas Culpepper but lacked passion and there was little tension between him and Katherine – though I know that love scenes are difficult for amateurs to play. The emotion between the King and Katherine was much more evident.

Eric Saxton as the scheming Archbishop Cranmer was in fine control of his lines and spoke them with perfect timing and to good effect. Jasmine Gartshore was fun and just right as the uninteresting dumpling Anne of Cleves, and Mike Long as Thomas Howard had a good voice and stage presence, although his portrayal could have been improved by displaying a more arrogant and courtly bearing.

The minor characters were played by good supporting actors. Non-speaking parts are also vital to the overall effect and players should convey by lively facial expression that they are part of the drama and not divorced from it.

I look forward to the Players’ next production.