Writers: Toby Marlow & Lucy Moss
Directors: Lucy Moss & Jamie Armitage
Choreographer: Carrie-Anne Ingrouille
Set Design: Emma Bailey
Costume: Gabriella Slade
Reviewer: Lauren Humphreys
Divorced. Beheaded. Died. Divorced. Beheaded. Survived.
Aragorn. Boleyn. Seymour. Cleves. Howard. Parr.
Six women, six British Queens, reduced to six words in a rhyme.
Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss give sassy 21st Century voices to these six Tudor queens.
Written in ten working days, Six the Musical has been an eye-watering, head-spinning success since its appearance in 2017 at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, where it was performed by the Cambridge University Musical Theatre Society. Since then it has had a UK tour, several runs in the West End, been produced Off-Broadway, had a US tour, a run on Norwegian Cruise Lines that will continue to 2022, and will appear on Broadway, Australia, Canada and in Chicago and Minnesota in 2020. It is currently on its second UK-wide tour.
It is a sassy celebration of womanhood as these Queens get to reclaim their own her-story 500 years on. Long defined by who their husband was, it’s now time to tell their own tales.
Inevitable comparisons will be made with theatrical juggernaut Hamilton which also mixes 21st century music with historical subject material. However, Six manages to plough its own original and irresistible furrow. Staged like a mash-up between a stadium concert and a musical, it blends spot-on humour and cleverly delivered history with a refreshing dose of self-awareness. Each Queen gets her chance to stand centre stage and state her case in an X-Factor style competition to see who had it worse at the hands of the infamous Henry. These women are here to kick ass and tell all. This they do in an array of musical genres, a blend of pop, rock ballad, R&B, soul and electro euro-pop (the hysterical Kraut-rock/House mash up Haus of Holbein) and all backed by an all-female band, The Ladies in Waiting.
Each of the six women playing these six queens is thoroughly talented and shine equally, a rare and wonderful thing to see on stage and despite the competitiveness, it’s ultimately a show of sisterhood. This is a girl gang you really want to join.
After the defiant intro number Ex-Wives, Lauren Drew (Catherine of Aragon) starts the ball rolling with the sassy No Way followed by Maddison Bulleyment’s hysterical Anne Boleyn delivering the Lily Allen-ish Don’t Lose Your Head, including the lyrics: “I tried to elope but the Pope said ‘nope'” and “everybody chill, it’s totes God’s will”. Lauren Byrne (Jane Seymour) tugs at the heart-strings in the power ballad Heart of Stone. Shekinah McFarlane (Anna of Cleves) gives us the Rhianna-like Get Down and delivers the laughs with: “I’m the Queen of the castle, get down you dirty rascals” when ‘exiled’ to a life of luxury and independence after her divorce from Henry. Jodie Steele delivers Katherine Howard’s All You Wanna Do, with defiance, the lyrics make you question (in light of the #MeToo movement) has anything really changed for women in the past 500 years? And sheds new perspective on how she has been remembered in history. Athena Collins brings the women’s stories to an end absolutely beautifully with Catherine Parr’s Beyoncé-like torch song I Don’t Need Your Love. Each of these woman is a power-house vocalist and could tear up any stage. That said, the songs they are asked to deliver are hard not to love and as catchy as hell. The rousing Six and Megasix mash-up brings the house to its feet to get down at the end.
Carrie-Anne Ingrouille’s choreography is sharp, original and modern, and perfectly executed by the cast. Gabriella Slade’s costume design is Ariana Grande does Tudor and it works fabulously, as does Emma Bailey’s simplistic but effective, concert-style set design and Tim Deiling’s rich lighting.
The face-off between the women is definitely a twisted sisterhood, they each fling the other’s sob story back in their faces, but this show of fierce womanhood is utterly irresistible. The dawning realisation by each woman that they only claim their place in history because of the man they married, reduced to: “just one word in a stupid rhyme” is actually heart-breaking. Thankfully they get “five more minutes” to set the record straight and send the audience to the street on an absolute high.
The succinct story telling packs a punch and the compact 75-minute running time is audience friendly. Marlow and Moss prove again that HISTORY + MUSICAL THEATRE = HIT. They have successfully distilled 500 year-old history into a perfect piece of entertainment for the 21st Century. Having seen it several times now, Six remains one of the best things out there and stands up to repeated viewings (something this reviewer is never keen on).
It’s a welcome breath of fresh air in a fog of tired, relentlessly touring, mediocre musicals. Get a ticket while you can, you won’t regret it.
Runs until 10 November 2019 | Image (of previous cast): Idil Sukan