Henry has been looking for God for 468 years – but instead he stumbles across an audience, and tells us his story. Unsure if he has been sent to Heaven or Hell, and tortured by the strains of Greensleeves that periodically burst into the room, Henry is trapped in a strange world. But he’s not going to let that dampen his spirits.
Still in the nightgown he died in, the late King cuts a comical but imposing figure from the moment he enters. Ross Gurney-Randall has created a larger-than-life Henry, with just the right mix of cartoonish rage and charming honesty. Bringing a new perspective to such a well-established character is a tricky business, but Henry here is both engaging and possessed of a certain fragility, which helps pull the audience in to his story.
The show is buoyed by the energy of Gurney-Randall’s delivery, as Henry recounts various episodes from his life, taking this chance in his afterlife to set the record straight on a few things too. It’s not clear how Henry has come to learn of the myths and misconceptions he wants to clear up for us, but he’s angry enough about being thought to have syphilis that this isn’t really a problem.
What it demonstrates, though, is one of a few minor wrinkles in the narrative and in character development. Gurney-Randall and writing partner Pete Howells have the makings of an excellent show, but it doesn't yet truly shine as it might. Henry is maybe too unreflective and lacking in self-awareness, despite his timeline-busting trivia knowledge. After nearly half a millennium in limbo, the man who reshaped an entire religion doesn’t truly engage with the possibility that God has forsaken him, meaning the stakes are never quite high as it feels like they want to be.
It's possible to see how a slightly more polished script would establish that clearer narrative, and round off the show in a more satisfying way. Even still, there is plenty to entertain here, as well as some well-placed historical details. Henry may be a difficult and dangerous fellow, but he quickly wins the audience over, making An Audience With Henry VIII an enjoyable hour in the company of an amusing and truly likeable character.