by Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss
18 - 23 November, 2019
Imagine that Henry VIII’s six wives get the chance to come back and tell the world their stories. And now imagine that they choose to do so by putting on a pop concert - the Divorced Beheaded Live! comeback tour. To bring it even further up-to-date, they decide to turn it into a competition: which queen has had the toughest deal? Who has had to put up with the most BS from the men in their lives – and particularly from Henry?
This, in a nutshell, is Six. It started life in 2017 as a student production at the Edinburgh Fringe, written by 23-year-olds Lucy Moss and Toby Marlow, was spotted and moved to the Arts Theatre in London, and has since become a massive word-of-mouth hit. It received five Olivier nominations in 2019, and won the WhatsOnStage award for Best Off-West End Production. It has toured in America, and is due to move to Broadway next year.
Six is firmly aimed at a young audience. The music, the sets, the costumes, and the song lyrics (“remember me from your GCSEs?”) all confirm this. Last night’s capacity audience (mostly female, mostly under 30) gave it a well-deserved ecstatic reception; my 11-year-old companion adored it, and is desperate to see it again.
It’s not for the faint-hearted: but then, nor is history. There were the beheadings, of course – but there was also death in childbirth, multiple miscarriages, and some grim treatment at the hands of men. “All You Wanna Do”, sung by Jodie Steele as Katherine Howard, describes the way she was groomed from the age of 13, and is uncomfortably relevant in the #metoo era.
Despite this, the overall feeling of the production is one of uplifting, joyous fun. Witty lyrics, full of historical puns and innuendos, superb choreography by Carrie-Anne Ingrouille, and fabulous music performed by a talented, energetic cast, combine to make this a show not to be missed.
Each queen has her own distinctive personality, and her own musical style. Maddison Bulleyment’s Anne Boleyn channels Lily Allen in Don’t Lose Ur Head ; this is followed by Heart of Stone, an Adele-style ballad belted out by Lauren Stone as Jane Seymour (“the only one he ever loved”). And there’s a wonderful techno-style ensemble number set in the studio of Hans Holbein, with the whole cast resplendent in fluorescent ruffs and sunglasses.
Though the element of competition means that sisterly solidarity is in short supply for much of the show, it has been described, with some accuracy, as a feminist production. The cast is all-female (Henry doesn’t get a look-in), as is the excellent onstage band. It is a “histo-remix” from a woman’s point of view (“herstory not history”) – and it highlights aspects of Tudor womanhood that are still relevant to women today.
Six is definitely not your average West End musical. Its short length (one hour and 20 minutes), and intimate scale, make it particularly suited for smaller regional theatres such as the Oxford Playhouse, hopefully bringing in a wider audience. Could this be the future of musical theatre? I hope so…