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Compton Players - Katherine Howard

21st to 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.

Here's the Newbury Weekly News review of Katherine Howard.

Destroyed by a man's desires

'KATHERINE HOWARD', performed by Compton Players, at the Coronation Hall, Compton, from Wednesday, November 21 to Saturday, November 24

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


Here are some comments from Chris Horton, of Boundary Players, saying...

... how much my friend and I enjoyed Katherine Howard last Saturday.

Congratulations to all concerned for a truly magnificent production. You must all be extremely proud and satisfied at such an accomplished achievement.

We were really gripped and spellbound...

We shall definitely make the trip (and it's quite a drive from Sherfield!) to see the Compton Players again. It will be worth it if all your plays live up to the excellent standard of Saturday.

Please pass on my best wishes and thanks to all concerned for a truly fabulous evening. Liz and I agreed it was the best thing we'd seen all year.

and this is from the Ashampstead and Aldworth Parish Magazine:

At the end of November last Ashampstead's 'Tea and Chat' fielded half a dozen keen theatre goers to swell the audience at Compton Village Hall for Compton Players' staging of William Nicholson's well-written historical play 'Katherine Howard'. The Players have presented plays in all but two years since 1947; a truly praiseworthy beacon to the art of theatre in this corner of the 'Downlands' in an age when there is so much other entertainment to be had. But such pale plastic and insipid Telly and Video offerings are no competition for the well-rehearsed, polished live performance of a literate, period-dressed (16 convincingly courtly Tudor costumes) and stimulating play. The audience was 'rapt' throughout on 21st Nov. and the applause loud and long for the pleasure given by a talented cast. The main burden fell upon Henry (VIII in crumbling if later rejuvenated middle age) and the young beguiling Katherine Howard inveigled into his bed and, briefly to share the throne, by the scheming of Church and politicians.

The record of the Players since 1947 shows that they try to cater for a wide range of tastes. But don't be misled; this staging of a 'quality' play was of a high standard and readers should not miss the opportunity to see a good play presented by Compton Players which may appeal to their taste.

B and K. S.