Music and Lyrics: Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss
Directors: Lucy Moss and Jamie Armitage
From the moment the cast emerges through the haze and belts out the first number, it’s clear that Six is no ordinary musical. And what’s most frustrating is that it defies description – words will never suffice to convey the sheer energy and joy that a performance of Six provides. Indeed, the sense of anticipation in the auditorium before the show begins is palpable with all ages represented. And at around 75 minutes, Six is small but perfectly formed – a musical for, producer George Stiles explains, the Netflix generation.
Here we have six women who are remembered solely because of their connections with the infamous Henry VIII. Most of us know the rhyme – Divorced, Beheaded, Died, Divorced, Beheaded, Survived – without knowing their names or anything about the women, except, perhaps, that one had six fingers and another had an apparently misleading portrait painted. But these were women with lives of their own, and Six seeks to redress that.
In Six, the queens form a girl band: these are Queens with Attitude. But who will be the lead singer? There’s only one way to find out … a sing-off as they each sing their story to see who suffered the most at Henry’s hands. Each queen has a ‘queenspiration’ – a couple of girl singers on whom her style is based as she tells her story. And, of course, there’s the Ladies in Waiting – a four-piece, all-female rock band onstage, who drive the evening along.
The whole is a loud, thumping production with bright lights and intricate choreography that has a contemporary feel from Carrie-Anne Ingrouille. And along the way, it manages to point out that, while the beheading of errant wives is now largely frowned upon, there’s still some resonance with women’s experiences today.
By its nature, Six is an ensemble performance and there is no weak link: each queen has a superb rock voice and rock-chick persona; they harmonise well and perform the sharp choreography to provide a feast for eyes and ears. There are also oases of relative calm – Heart of Stone, sung by Lauren Byrne as Jane Seymour is sweet and inspirational, while Get Down from Shekinah McFarlane as Anna of Cleves is full of sass. Athena Collins’ Catherine Parr brings a voice of reason to proceedings while Maddison Bulleyment’s Anne Boleyn is deliciously bitter. At this performance alternate Harriet Watson brought us Catherine of Aragon, opening the sing-off with energy, while Jodie Steele brings a coquettishness to Katherine Howard.
It’s incredible to think that Six started life as a piece at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe for Cambridge University Musical Theatre Society as recently as 2017; its pure energy and assurance have carried this phenomenon to the West End, on a UK tour as well over the pond to North America and, shortly, to Broadway, bringing new faces to theatres and, maybe, converting a new generation of musical theatre. Long may these queens of herstory reign!
Runs until 14 March 2020