Q&A: Simone Romaniuk on designing THE LAST WIFE

19 Aug 2019

The story of THE LAST WIFE follows the dangerous sparring between Henry VIII and Katherine Parr, but you won’t find our royal family dressed in ruffs and corsets or hanging out in dark castles for that matter. Re-imagined through a richly provocative contemporary lens, these characters exude a modern sense of wealth, luxury and formality more akin to Will and Kate or Harry and Meghan than what we read in English history books!

What does the world of THE LAST WIFE look like in this re-telling you ask? We sat down with set and costume designer Simone Romaniuk to ask a few questions about her process as a designer, first impressions of the story and playing with modern references.

What is your creative process in the early design stages?

Initially I read through the script several times, have a discussion with the director and then start researching the world of the play. This might involve period, location, events depicted in the play or ideas around the characters. I collate reference imagery that relates to themes as well as possible architectural and clothing elements and talk with the director about which of these best convey the sense of the play in our version. Next I create renders and sketches and finally a model and plans.

What were your first impressions as a designer upon reading THE LAST WIFE? Did anything standout to you?

It is a striking account of a bold woman making substantial changes within a very masculine world. The fact that it is based on true events with real characters so many centuries ago is fascinating. I wanted to create a space that had a wealthy, masculine feel, balanced with an emerging female strength. It is a complex script, and moves quickly between scenes, so the design had to allow an open and flexible space for public scenes as well as the ability to create more intimate, private moments.

THE LAST WIFE is a contemporary re-imagining of historical events. How are you pulling your designs into this modern context?

Reference to the current royal families in the UK and Europe was the starting point for costume. There is a formality and sense of wealth around the family in the play, which can be seen in the public personas of the royal families we see in the media today. There is also a domesticity which feels very contemporary.

Did you do much historical research for inspiration?

Yes, I looked at the history of the original Tudor family and also at the architecture, artwork and royal imagery of the period. Small details in the set are drawn from historical reference; the marble floor with angled gold inlay, diamond patterning on the walls and historical royal portraits as large scale wall hangings.

At Ensemble Theatre 30 Aug – 29 Sep, book here.