Review: Six the Musical – The Arts Theatre, London

Kenny Wax, Global Musicals and George Stiles present Six written by Toby Marlow & Lucy Moss. Directed by Lucy Moss & Jamie Armitage, Musical Direction by Katy Richardson and Choreography by Carrie-Anne Ingrouille.

For anyone who attended a British high-school, the story of King Henry VIII and his six wives is not a new story. You probably would have been taught the catchy rhyme to remember each ones fate, “divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived.”
For anyone who did not attend a British high-school, this rhyme and the subsequent story of King Henry VIII and his six wives may be all entirely new to you. You may recognise the name Anne Boleyn from her daughter Queen Elizabeth (the O.G Liz) or you may not.
But no matter whether you know the story or not, you definitely do not know their stories, and that’s what Six aims to change.
Trust me, by the time you leave this show you’ll be asking yourself why your teachers don’t follow the same routine to make history as interesting as this.

Six had its initial run at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2017 and has been making waves ever since. It’s been clear that for a few years Broadway has been following the same routines of the movie musical, with some being the easy, money grabbing “paint by numbers” musicals – crowd pleasing, but forgettable. Across the pond however, it’s safe to say that the West End is going through somewhat of a renaissance in its production of the next generations theatre. Shows like The Play that Goes Wrong, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, Stiles and Drewe’s Soho Cinders all hit the mark of shows that have been involved in the new and exciting productions that connect with the zeitgeist of London’s theatre scene. Six defines new heights in this sense.
With its 75-minute run time, no interval, rock concert themed score, all female six-membered ensemble and all-female band, Six is not for those theatre goers rigid in their Rogers & Hammerstein past and unwilling to move aside.

Told from the perspective of Henry’s six wives, Catherine of Aragon (Jarneia Richard-Noel), Anne Boleyn (Millie O’Connell), Jane Seymour (Natalie Paris), Anna of Cleves (Alexia McIntosh), Katherine Howard (tonight played by Grace Mouat) and Catherine Parr (Maiya Quansah-Breed), you’ll enter the show knowing them as Henry’s six wives but leave the show asking, Henry who?
The basic premise of the show sees the six wives fight over who is the most famous, the most loyal or basically the best wife out of the lot. At first, this may not sound like the most feminist-powered plot but what quickly comes to light is the wives are telling their own stories their way. Whereas throughout history their stories have just been told through the eyes of Henry or written down into history books that have never been updated and you will probably find at the bottom of your rotten old school bag or in the labyrinth that is the history storeroom.

In this era of #MeToo and women finding their own voices outside of mansplaining, fighting off the Weinsteins of the world and striving for that true slice of equality, Six honours these women of history

The stories in a nutshell come from the rhyme “divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived.” and each Queen has their own style of song composed to reflect their character or tone of their story.
Richard-Noel’s Catherine of Aragon boasts of her claim of being the first wife to Henry, remembered for her refusal to accept that her marriage to Henry was invalid and her song choices influenced by Beyonce and Shikara set the tone for the ferocity of the Queens’ stories.

O’Connell’s Anne Boleyn is portrayed as one of today’s millennials, with her songs inspired by Lily Allen and Avril Lavigne she is best remembered for causing Henry to break from the Pope and the Church just to divorce his first wife, only later to be beheaded for her “flirtatious” ways.

As Jane Seymour, Paris layers the show with a different tone to reflect her more honest and loving wife to the crowd. With her song choices inspired by Adele and Sia, Jane Seymour is remembered for being “the only one he ever loved.”

Anna of Cleves quickly brings the score back to the concert style bass drops and McIntosh revels in the Nicki Minaj & Rhianna-esque choreography and song styles. Remembered mainly for staying alive, McIntosh adds the subtext of the Tinder Generation, boasting that Henry liked her portrait but she didn’t look as good as she did in her picture.

One of the more promiscuous Queens, Katherine Howard’s songs are more in tune with Ariana Grande and Britney Spears and Mouat’s choreography and costumes truly reflect this. Remembered for being completely used and abused by those with power, her “unchaste life” eventually had her beheaded.

And last (but most certainly not least), Catherine Parr “the final wife” saw Henry through the rest of his life. With her songs having “Queenspiration” from Alicia Keys and Emeli Sande, Quanash-Breed plays Catherine Parr with indignant strength and tenderness, not boastful of her claim to have “survived” but her song “I don’t need your love” rings true to all of the Queens on stage.
In describing the roles of all six women, I can’t highlight just one because all six of them defined the word ensemble. The way the show is written allowed for each woman to have their own spotlight and each knew their roles and how to give each other their power equally. Perhaps this why they were nominated as The Queens for an Olivier Award.

Everything about Six ran professionally smooth and compact and every beat, choreographed movement, note and line in tune with such female power that you couldn’t help but sit there with a smile on your face and cheer for these women owning this space and time on stage.
Under the Musical Direction of Katy Richardson, the band were as much a part of the show as the Queens. With Alice Angliss on drums, Amy Shaw on Guitar and Terri De Marco on Bass, they were honoured with their own spotlight, something that is rarely done for musicians in musical theatre.

Although Marlow and Moss have both themselves admitted that the show doesn’t exactly pass the “Bechdel Test”, seeing each Tudor Queen retcon their version of history into their own self-defined herstory is a delight to behold. Marlow and Moss liberally delve into the past and mould these womens’ stories showing that history for some indeed hasn’t changed. Okay, yes we won’t go beheading a woman for their promiscuity anymore but at the same time do we not high five guys for sleeping around whereas call women something else all entirely vulgar?
In this era of #MeToo and women finding their own voices outside of mansplaining, fighting off the Weinsteins of the world and striving for that true slice of equality, Six honours these women of history and seeks to change their stories outside of just being seen as “Henry’s Wife”. This isn’t just a notion of history but also rings true for women today, to break free from being attached to the shadow of a man and being their own woman, being free to tell their own stories.

Stin’s Final Thought: As the Queens said, everyone has their favourite Queen. Who’s your favourite? Feel free to share

Six the Musical is now playing at the Arts Theatre in London. Tickets and information can be found below.

Six the Musical

Credit: Idil Sukan
Credit: Idil Sukan

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