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Theatre & Performance Kate Hennig on politics, Slinkys and the British monarchy

Kate Hennig’s play ‘The Last Wife’ delves into Henry VIII’s final marriage to Katherine Parr. She’s also playing Maggie Thatcher in ‘The Audience.’

David Cooper

Her play The Last Wife, a contemporary take on the relationship between Henry VIII and his final wife, Katherine Parr, is up and running at Soulpepper's Young Theatre. At the same, she's portraying Margaret Thatcher in The Audience, Peter Morgan's drama about Queen Elizabeth II.

Suffice to say, the writer-actress Kate Hennig is having a royal time these days. The Globe and Mail spoke to her about politics, Slinkys and the enduring fascination with the British monarchy.

Reading some of the press blurbs about The Last Wife when it was at Stratford last summer, I noticed The Globe used the adjectives lively, contemporary and unapologetic. Can we apply them to you?

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Lively, yes. Unapologetic? I don't know. I would hate to use that word to describe myself. I'm always interested in being convinced of somebody else's opinion. What was the other one?

Contemporary.

Well … [laughs]. I'm in my mid-50s, and I really feel, quite suddenly, the generation gap. I'm working with young people. I think it really takes some effort to mind the gap, as it were.

Given the feminist themes in the play, what are your thoughts on the recent defeat of Hillary Clinton by Donald Trump?

With The Last Wife, the reason I used the story of Katherine Parr to express my political view is my worry and existential fear that no matter how far women think they can get, there is always a bully of a man who will put them back into what they consider is their place.

Is that a fear, or is it a reality?

I'm not saying it's a complete reality. It is my fear. And it is an overriding fear. And it just played out between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. It just shows you we travel around in circles. And I wonder how much we really learn from history.

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Circles? I would argue it's more two steps forward, one step back.

Well, here's my theory, as I presented it in the notes to the Stratford production of The Last Wife. It's that we actually travel on a Slinky. We're passing by the same material, but we're maybe one rung up. So, how far do we get in 500 years? I'm not sure. But I think we come back to the same material and we face it again. Hopefully, as a human race, we have moved slightly ahead and can face it with slightly more dignity.

Let's talk about 500 years ago, then. There seems to be a large appetite for the Tudors these days. Why is that?

You can not write drama like these people lived. You can't make it up, you know? The more you research it, the more insane it gets. It's almost a bottomless pit of antics and marriages and divorces and murders and people stepping in back doors and out front doors. It's all very circumspect and covert. It's just great drama.

Speaking of Royal drama, you're playing Margaret Thatcher in The Audience. What's your take on Thatcher's relationship with Queen Elizabeth?

I think the two women had a great deal of respect for each other. And I think their relationship was extremely complex politically. Neither of them would speak of the relationship publicly.

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I picture it as a lion meeting a

tiger for the first time.

Exactly. And I do think that's what Peter Morgan puts out onto the stage, for sure. What he's drawn on for the play is that the palace made a faux pas and released some press that really put Margaret Thatcher and her government in a poor light.

Well, there's some more of that Royal drama you were speaking about.

That's it! That's exactly it, right? I don't think the intrigue ever leaves people with power.

The Last Wife plays the Young Centre to Feb. 11.

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