Six – Oxford Playhouse

Reviewer: Tim Harding

Music and Lyrics: Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss

Directors: Lucy Moss and Jamie Armitage

The little show that has been making ‘Herstory’ since first appearing at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2017, Six, is back on tour, and the queens are ready to rock a town near you in the coming months.

We’re one of a kind, no category” sing the six wives of Henry VIII in their closing number and this really does sum up this unique show: part rock concert, part cabaret, but all theatre. The staging (Jamie Armitage and Lucy Moss) and costuming (Gabriella Slade) are very well thought out and meticulous; every step and hand gesture of Carrie-Anne Ingrouille’s choreography is imbued with character and meaning. The most impressive thing about the writing of Six is how clearly co-writers Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss (first-time writers and collaborators – incredible!) have given each of the wives a distinct character and matched that with a dizzying array of musical styles: Anne Boleyn’s stroppy Londoner is perfectly captured in the Lily Allen-inspired chorus of Don’t Lose Ur Head; the sensitive Jane Seymour is characterized with a rich Adele-influenced ballad, Heart of Stone; the gutsy Anne of Cleves struts and thrusts around the stage giving Nicki Minaj a run for her money. And there cannot be many shows that dare to place a Kurt Weill accordion riff next to a heavy house beat, but that’s the anarchically funny Haus of Holbein – Haus Music if you will! The vocal quality of the six performers is also perfectly balanced; the harmonies, all hit live with no prerecorded tracking, are a thing of exquisite beauty for the ear. If every girl band were this good, then auto-tune need never have been invented!

If the music, performed by the great four-piece house band of “Ladies in Waiting” is tuneful and energetic; the lyrics are absolutely whip-smart with too many great lines to try and single any out. And the show really is funny – and it knows it. It has the confidence to allow the performers to land a gag – or a terrible pun – and turn and grin at the audience. The crowd is the extra performer, members getting involved in the way that they would at a rock concert. Or a pantomime! The show really is that broad in its stylistic references and all the better for it.

The performances across the board are exceptional. The actors are Toby Marlow, Lucy Moss, Jamie Armitage, Carrie-Anne Ingrouille, Sarah Burrell, Lauren Drew, Maddison Bulleyment, Caitlin Tipping, Shekinah McFarlane, Vicki Manser, Elèna Gyasi, Gabriella Slade to deliver the dialogue in their natural accents, so, for example, Lauren Drew is a slightly stroppy Welsh Catherine of Aragorn, put out by the arrival of her young rival, the very cheeky Anne Boleyn of Maddison Bulleyment. Their arguing interplay throughout the evening is a delight. The soothing Scottish brogue of Caitlin Tipping’s Jane Seymour lends a real warmth to the proceedings, while the vibrant Shekinah McFarlane never stops moving, her infectious energy really raising the often overlooked Anne of Cleves to an equal status with her fellow queens. Elèna Gyasi’s Catherine Parr begins – deliberately – unsure of herself and her status but grows in stature and voice in a performance that belies the experience of an actor who only graduated from drama college last year. Best of all is Vicki Manser as Katherine Howard, a young woman often categorized as just out for her own gratification. Manser raises the song All You Wanna Do from a fairly simple, even bland pop song, to a theatrical tour de force:this is a young woman wronged by so many men in so many ways, and we understand everything in her detailed interpretation.

Six dares to rewrite an apparently reasonably well-known area of our history from the women’s own perspective. That it manages to mock the ‘male version’ of history without alienating the men in the audience, many of whom were on their feet along with the women at the end of this performance, shows how well they have trodden that difficult tonal tight-rope. While not unique in its rock concert-cabaret format (Hedwig and the Angry Inch used a similar idea 20 years ago) this is a very bold, witty, energetic concert that packs a dramatic punch as well as make a very important point about women claiming the right to tell their own stories in our history. Not only is this an exquisitely crafted and thoroughly entertaining show, it’s an important one to boot. Catch it as it tours the country.

Runs until 5 September 2021 and touring

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The Reviews Hub - Central

The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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