“a sensational show … the script sizzles with wit”
Does Six need introducing? Is there anyone at this point who isn’t aware of the musical phenomenon that’s snowballed massively in popularity since 2018, resulting now in its permanent fixture at the Vaudeville Theatre? Probably not. Its simple but effective and easily marketable concept is what propelled the show so far, after all. But, three years on, does it still stand up, stand out, and hook you in?
For those unfamiliar with the premise (both of you), Six sees Henry VIII’s wives brought together on stage. They decide to perform for the audience in turn, each trying to prove that they were the wife who had it the worst. They all rise to the challenge, belting out anthems to the audience about the hardships they suffered, in what feels more like a concert than a run-of-the-mill musical: the band (led superbly by Lauren Hopkinson) are prominently on stage for the whole performance, the costumes (Gabriella Slade) look like they were stolen straight out of the wardrobe of the latest pop icon’s arena tour, and the set (Emma Bailey) and lighting (Tim Deiling) are clearly invoking the feeling of being at a gig. It makes for a spectacle for the senses which frequently dazzles.
The cast are also clearly having an absolute blast. Under the direction of Lucy Moss and Jamie Armitage, they work stupendously well together, quickly establishing defined characters through bickering interactions between songs and generating a rapport that’s a delight to watch. The standouts were undoubtedly Cherelle Jay and Alexia McIntosh, who in this performance played Anne Boleyn and Anna of Cleves respectively. Jay’s song, ‘Don’t Lose Ur Head’ is performed with enrapturing charm and cheekiness, while McIntosh’s smugness and interplay with the audience in ‘Get Down’ will leave your face hurting from the grin that’ll be plastered on it. The vocals from all the cast are also jaw-on-the-floor fantastic, with Hana Stewart (Catherine Parr in this performance) being especially exceptional.
Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss have crafted a sensational show together: the music would feel right at home in the charts but never forgets to serve the characters above all else, and the script sizzles with wit. There are some moments towards the end when it feels a little student-y, but it’s tremendously easy to overlook when the rest of the show is so joyous. Six is still totally superlative, and I expect it will continue to be for many years to come.
“The three singers each give pitch-perfect, passionate performances that lift the material beyond the realm of ‘folk’, allowing the listener to hear the underlying grander potential”
Stories are everywhere; and the inspiration behind these stories can spring up in some of the most unlikely places. This is certainly true for Jack Miles, the writer/composer of “St Anne Comes Home”. There was nothing particularly special about his bus ride through a rain-soaked Vauxhall, his spirits as damp as the pavement outside his window. There was nothing special about the man in the church doorway, whose solitary, melancholic profile flickered past as the bus turned away. Yet half an hour later that vague shadow had morphed into a multi-coloured, multi-faceted scenario in Miles’ mind.
We all do it, at some point. Paul Simon famously scribbled the lyrics to the iconic folk song “America” while imagining the lives of his fellow Greyhound bus passengers. Finding the drama within the minutiae of the mundane is a skill that Miles has put to good use in this new ‘folk musical’ premiering in the centre of Covent Garden, as part of the Iris Theatre Summer Festival in the garden of St Paul’s Church.
James (Jordan Castle) is the focal character; homeless and, to the annoyance of the local fair-weather parishioners, has made a temporary home in the doorway of St. Anne church. Estranged from his young daughter he seems initially to be running away from his problems. Here he meets Bridget (Rebecca McKinnis) who is trapped in an abusive marriage and struggling to raise her own child. Over tea and sympathy, they share their stories. Meanwhile Russell (Mathew Craig), the Catholic priest, battles with his own demons, torn between letting James into the flock or, by bowing to his congregation’s unchristian intolerance, rejecting him.
It is within the songs that one gets the true sense of the story, rather than the dialogue of platitudes that link them. The three singers each give pitch-perfect, passionate performances that lift the material beyond the realm of ‘folk’, allowing the listener to hear the underlying grander potential. At times, however, the emotion outweighs the content. The storyline follows a predictable path along which the stakes are never raised high enough to warrant the sheer outpouring of grief and anger that these singers convey. If this is an obstacle to being swept away by the characters, we do have the consolation of being blown away by the charisma of the cast.
And Jack Miles has crafted a selection of very fine songs. Miles himself accompanies on guitar, alongside Claudia Fuller on violin and Ben Jones on Double Bass. Under Joe Beighton’s assured musical supervision the delicacy of the arrangements highlights the fluctuating moods and melodic structure. Jones switches from bowing to picking in a beat, matching the emotional U-turns of the characters, while Fuller’s violin soothes and angers in perfect time to the libretto.
From the back seat of a bus to a front seat in London’s theatreland (albeit in the open air, while most of the theatre’s doors are still closed) this musical has been a year in the making so far. Director Martha Geelan has been at the helm in shaping the drama, moulding the imagination of Miles into a refreshing new piece of musical theatre. I don’t think they should stop here though. The journey is only just beginning, but that is meant as a sincere compliment. At the moment it comes across as a storm in a teacup, but its horizons are so much wider than that.