Brighton Fringe 2015
Strong and commanding one-man performance of a dead King Henry VIII recounting his life whilst trapped in an indefinable limbo.
Its always incredibly challenging to put on a one-person show. The entire piece stands or falls on the actor’s ability to engage with both the script and the audience. However, from Ross Gurney-Randalls explosive entry, “GODS TEETH! GODS BLOOD!” as Henry VIII raging against the clichéd soundtrack of Greensleeves: “Modern rubbish, I didn’t even write it.” it is clear that the monologue is in capable hands.
Dressed in a red fur-trimmed robe, crown, and nightshirt Henry has the appearance of a majesty rudely awakened. He reveals he’s been dead for 460 years and is – like Vladimir and Estragon – still waiting for God. The performance is very much a confessional, not only to an absent God, but to the audience as well. We are the jury, there to pass the judgment of an missing deity.
Gurney-Randall’s Henry interacts with the audience, asks them questions, gets them to help with props and deftly fields their enthusiastic shout outs. There’s the potential for this show to get quite riotous with a familiar crowd.
This Henry is a capricious king, laughing and joking about friends and past loves one minute, then raging at perceived injustices the next. He allegedly signed 80,000 death warrants “Well, I didn’t sign them all, that would’ve taken forever, and not good for the aching hand.”
Gurney-Randall convincingly portrays the pain and physical suffering that wracked the monarch’s massive frame, from a destroyed liver to the permanently ulcerous leg caused by a jousting injury. He’s also a man plagued with self-doubts, countered by an unerring sense of self-importance – full of bravado and bluster.
The clever circular conceit of Henry being forced perform the show for eternity made the audience feel part of some larger dynamic, with the king merely passing through.
Plagued the “black imp” in the corner, director Tony Haase, controlled Henry’s torment with a light touch, giving Gurney-Randall the space to perform and react to the various sounds and voices in the either.
Gurney-Randall and Pete Howells’ script is witty, incisive with plenty of anti-French jokes about syphilitic kings. It’s also crammed full of a dizzying array of facts and figures, correcting common misconceptions and destroying perceived truths.
While the show covers all the obvious stories about his six wives, Wolsey, Cromwell, and his lesser known bastard children, you come away from the show feeling like you know the ruler a bit more. A bit deeper than just historical fact-checking. And while he’s a flawed man, perhaps he doesn’t quite deserve to spend eternity justifying himself before an audience. But fortunately for us, it looks like he may well end up doing that for at least several years to come.