“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.
“one of the hottest shows on right now, created by brilliant, talented young artists who are shaking up the West End”
The 2019 Olivier Awards nominations were announced yesterday, with Six up for five. For a student-created show that debuted at Edinburgh Fringe in 2017, Six has skyrocketed to the highest ranks of London theatre. The performance starring all six of Henry VIII’s wives joins Come from Away, Tina, and Fun Home in the Olivier category for Best New Musical. These are the biggest players in the West End, and Six has incredibly but undeniably earned its place among them.
Written by Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss, and directed by Moss and Jamie Armitage, Six is not like musicals you’ve seen before. Framed as a pop concert/X Factor competition, the ex-queens take turns singing their stories, all vying for the title of Who Had It Worst with the infamously bad-tempered King Henry. Divorced, beheaded, died; divorced, beheaded, survived. The six songs are as different as the six women. Marlow and Moss cover the range of pop, drawing influence from modern queens Beyoncé, Adele, Ariana Grande, Nicki Minaj, Lilly Allen, and Alicia Keys. Genuinely hit-worthy music, beyond-clever lyrics (rapid-fire historical references spun with millennial-modern allusions), and knock-out performances (from the queens as well as their all-female live band) combine to create a formidable new contender on the musical scene.
Jarneia Richard-Noel (Catherine of Aragon), Millie O’Connell (Anne Boleyn), Natalie Paris (Jane Seymour), Alexia McIntosh (Anna of Cleves), Aimie Atkinson (Katherine Howard), and Maiya Quansah-Breed (Catherine Parr) rock the glittered combat boots and Tudor-punk, power-glam outfits that have earned Gabriella Slade an Olivier nomination for Best Costume Design. The queens belt out their songs and slay their choreography with the same energy you’d expect from the real-life divas who inspired them. McIntosh stands out for her excellent comedic presence.
Although it may seem dubious, considering the premise involves Henry’s wives competing over who had the worst marriage, the show is undoubtedly feminist. The six women take the microphone to reclaim their stories – to give their perspectives, which have been left out of the history books. That they all perform as each other’s supporting vocals and backup dancers effectively reveals the facetious nature of their rivalry. They’re really a team. And although they only come to this realisation in the end, the show spends the whole time arguing they were people, not just wives.
Six is largely tongue-in-cheek. It’s funny and fun more than it’s informative. The whole thing is joyously playful, surprisingly fresh, and wildly entertaining. There’s a delightful, amateurish silliness to the concept, which seems to stem from a couple of sleep-deprived students procrastinating their History final. (Recent Cambridge grads Marlow and Moss wrote the play during their exams).
Six has had an incredible journey, from its beginnings at Edinburgh Fringe just two years ago, to the five Olivier nominations it received yesterday. This is one of the hottest shows on right now, created by brilliant, talented young artists who are shaking up the West End.