LondonMusicalReviewWest End

Six – The Arts Theatre, London

Music and Lyrics: Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss

Directors: Lucy Moss and Jamie Armitage

Reviewer: Maryam Philpott

Behind every great man, there is a great woman or in Henry VIII’s case six great women, and they’re back to set the record straight. With a UK tour already under its belt, a second stint at London Art’s Theatre and an American transfer lined-up later in the Spring, Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss’ Edinburgh sensation is now completely unstoppable – and there’s the small matter of five Olivier award nominations this year. Six really is as good as they say.

Sick of being known only as part of a rhyme and for sharing a famous husband, Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Anna of Cleves, Katherine Howard and Catherine Parr have formed their own group and decide a sing-off is the only way to determine which of them is the public’s favourite wife. One by one, each Queen tells her story in song, but do they have more in common than their taste in Kings?

With 10 great songs, Sixis a theatrical revelation, one of those rare moments where creative inspiration and stagecraft arrive at just the right moment to hit the cultural zeitgeist. With more space than ever before given over to female-led stories and an enduring fascination with Henry’s six marriages Marlow and Moss couldn’t have picked a better subject for their musical, women whose experience of arranged marriage, domestic abuse, victim-blaming and public vilification feel incredibly modern.

Staged as a pop concert, from the moment the first number Ex-Wives begins, sampling Greensleeves, you know ‘history is about to be overthrown’. They rap, they dance, they appeal to your sympathies and make you laugh with ‘beats so sick they’ll give you gout’. Each Queen tells her own story in chronological order, the three most famous first; Catherine of Aragon (Jameia Richard-Noel) refuses to back down in the sassy No Way; ‘temptress’ Anne Boleyn (Millie O’Connel) has the girly pop tune Don’t Lose Your Head full of text speak while the quiet, sweet Jane Seymour (Natalie Paris) has a soaring love song about her devotion to Henry.

Avoiding the formulaic, it is wife number four (Alexia McIntosh) who surprises us with a smug grime-inspired number in which she brags about the palaces and money she got from the relationship. Calling herself a gold digger and loving her freedom Marlow and Moss pull a clever switch, making one of the least famous wives the most spirited. Katherine Howard (Aimie Atkinson) is also reinvented as a harassed young woman abused by a series of men in the increasingly uncomfortable All You Wanna Do, while Catherine Parr (Maiya Quansah-Breed) vocalises a rejection letter to the man she really wanted to marry.

Musically and choreographically Sixis first-rate, changing styles frequently while retaining its coherent whole. Carrie-Anne Ingrouille deserves her Olivier nomination creating endlessly inventive dance sequences that are edgy and hugely entertaining, while Marlow and Moss’ memorable songs give each women an individual voice as well as a collective show of female strength that fully acknowledges the nonsense of its own competitive structure, to send the audience home on a high.

Arguably, if there was space for one more song, then Cardinal Wolsey, Thomas Cromwell, Charles Brandon and Edward Seymour among others are equally culpable for what happened to these women, and while the wives are best known for their relationship with one man, equally Henry VIII is primarily known for his serial marriages. With an Oliver nomination for Best New Musical, Six may be up against big players, but don’t be surprised if this fabulous show causes an upset on the night. If Henry can break tradition with a whole new religion, then don’t bet against these Queens.

Booking until: 5 January 2020 | Image: Idil Sukan

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A revelation

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