by Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss
Directed by Lucy Moss & Jamie Armitage.
30 August - extended to January 5 2020
Review by Clive Burton
This new show elevates the term ‘pop princess’ to a whole new level, charting the lives of an all-girl group comprised of Henry VIII’s cast-off wives: six in all - hence the title of this historic new musical.
Perhaps it is just as well that circumstances separated these feisty women who know what they want, what they really want: and that is not to be side-lined by history as ‘just’ a wife.
When they come together as they do in Six, they shine a formidable new light on girl power, competing against each other for a place in their wayward monarch’s affections (and for audience approval) in a smart new musical, aimed at a young audience with a penchant for social media and a predilection for pop concerts rather than pure musical theatre per se.
Six pushes all these buttons from the outset: it’s sexy, raunchy and mercifully less proselytising about women’s rights than it might have been.
In the hands of two young new stunning writers - the uber-talented Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss - the project started at the ADC Theatre in Cambridge before moving to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
Now it has reached the West End on a wave of rave reviews (and buoyed up with the support of a doyen of British musical theatre, George Stiles as one of the co-producers), the show is surfing a wave of unprecedented popularity at The Arts Theatre, deserving every hard-won plaudit.
In this chic new incarnation, Six is fronted by a swish team of leggy singing/dancing actors dressed with a psychedelic nod towards the period of the original Queens in vivacious costumes designed by Gabriella Slade, and playing against Emma Bailey’s tiered set where an all-girl band (under MD Katy Richardson) is revealed as the rocking power behind the throne of the half dozen women whose fate is to be remembered above all else as spouses to Henry VIII.
In this 75-minute show it may not be possible to investigate their lives in any depth (unlike the new play Emilia at Shakespeare’s Globe, which has a broader canvas on which to explore its subject's life and times in greater detail), but each is given a moment in the limelight to make their case in this rap-inspired, 21st Century musical that is very much indebted to the inspirational rhythmic patterns familiar from Hamilton.
The line-up of performing talent is truly phenomenal, and Six is presented as a fast-moving gig or MTV show - where the women are competing to win the audience’s hearts (a tenuous but workable enough conceit in the circumstances) as the most popular Queen.
Performing styles and crystal-clear lyrics (sound by Paul Gatehouse) differentiate one crowned head from the next, and the spouses appear in the chronological historical order in which they were divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded and survived.
The inspiration for their pop alter egos is drawn from Beyoncé/Shakira (for Catherine of Aragon); Lily Allen/Avril Lavigne (Anne Boleyn); Adele and Sia (Jane Seymour) ; Nicki Minaj/Rihanna (Anna of Cleves); Arianna Grande/Britney Spears (Katherine Howard) and Alicia Keyes/Emeli Sandé (Catherine Parr) in a display of ‘girl power’ par excellence woven with Facebook, Snapchat and other social media references that prove catnip to the youthful audience.
Catherine of Aragon (Jarneia Richard-Noel) protests her innocence and is obliged to live in a Convent when she is the first spouse to fall out of favour. Millie O’Connell’s Anne Boleyn ‘tried to elope, but the Pope said no’ and was succeeded by Natalie Paris’s reflective Jane Seymour whose contemplative ‘Heart of Stone’ emphasises the steadfastness of her love.
Echoing the thoughts of everyone whose on-line photo(shopped) image has failed to match the real thing, Anna of Cleves recalls similar rejection when Holbein’s over-complimentary portrait dashes Henry’s hopes of marrying a beauty: 'you said that I trick'd yer, 'cos I didn't look like my profile picture'… She was side-lined to a life of excess in her own Palace at Richmond. (A great song, given a great performance by Alexia McIntosh.)
She was supplanted by number five, Aimie Atkinson’s demure sex bomb Katherine Howard, who commiserates with her fellow wives - all of whom reluctantly lived their married lives in the shadow of one powerful man - before meeting her fate at the hands of the Executioner and passing the poisoned matrimonial chalice on to the only wife (Maiya Quansah-Breed's much-married Catherine Parr) who survived the maelstrom of marriage to the headstrong monarch and lived to tell the tale.
You’re gonna ‘like’ these feisty women a lot.
Great Newport Street,
London, WC2H 7JB
Box Office: 020 7836 8463
SIX cast - Top - L-R
Jarneia Richard-Noel (Catherine of Aragon), Millie O’Connell (Anne Boleyn),
Natalie Paris (Jane Seymour)
Alexia McIntosh (Anna of Cleves),
Aimie Atkinson (Katherine Howard),
Maiya Quansah-Breed (Catherine Parr)
by Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss
6-7 Great Newport Street
Thursday 30 August - Sunday 23 September
Box office:020 7836 8463
Tuesday - Friday at 8.00pm
Wednesday matinee 2.30pm
Saturday 4.00pm & 8.00pm
Sunday 4.00pm & 7.00pm
(additional Friday 4.00pm
matinee on 31 August)
Running time: 75 mins
Tickets: from £6.00