“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 chemistry between Douglas and Tovey is cosmic, even celestial, and there is a frisson that is totally fresh and natural”
‘In the quantum multiverse’, explains Manuel in “Constellations”, ‘every choice, every decision you’ve ever and never made exists in an unimaginably vast ensemble of parallel universes. We’ve all had these late-night conversations at some point or other, that usually descend into a chasm of confusion and a mind-boggling realisation about how little we know about the universe. Nick Payne’s play about the randomness of time and space condenses the subject more succinctly when it takes us on Manuel and Roland’s journey through a variety of alternative and possible pasts, presents and futures. But cosmology aside, the focus is on the microcosmic ‘humanness’ of the couple. The heartaches and happiness brought about by the various ‘what ifs’ that flesh is heir to.
After over a year of uncertainty, could-have-beens and might-have-beens; it feels like the perfect time for a revival of Payne’s extraordinary tale of infinite possibilities. First produced at the Royal Court it has since enjoyed West End runs, national tours and played Broadway. Now back in the West End, with original director Michael Longhurst at the helm, it can be seen from a fresh angle. The production features a revolving cast, and the choice of actors opens up new meanings and new dynamics to Payne’s writing. The action is no longer the preserve of a white, middle aged heterosexual couple. In this version in question, Manuel (originally Marianne) is played by Omari Douglas opposite Russell Tovey’s Roland. It is not just a boy-meets-girl story anymore. And the current concept works brilliantly. The chemistry between Douglas and Tovey is cosmic, even celestial, and there is a frisson that is totally fresh and natural. Having not seen the other scenarios I am not offering a comparison, but I suspect any choice (in our quantum universe every choice is possible) as to which duo to see will be the right one.
Roland is a beekeeper and Manuel a cosmologist who waxes lyrical about string theory and the belief that there are multiple universes that pull people’s lives in various directions. This is reflected in the play’s structure as the scenes (often very brief) are repeated with different attitudes, intonations, and outcomes. The couple meet at a barbecue and become romantically involved, they move in with each other, break up, meet up again and eventually marry. Or not. The differences played out in each variation are often quite miniscule, but the effects are momentous. All of life and death is there, with multiple stages of laughter and grief. On paper it does have the potential to become a drama exercise, but the actors’ outstanding performance prevents this.
Tom Scutt’s design suspends dozens of helium filled balloons above the stage, their significance morphing in tune with the nuances of each scene. A simple design, but in the mind of the audience it can represent molecules or galaxies, party guests or speech bubbles, or even an invisible tumour. Alongside David McSeveney’s staccato sound design and Simon Slater’s score, we get a full sense of how snap decisions can change the rhythms of life, love, and loss immeasurably.
‘We have all the time we’ve always had’ declares Manuel. More than once. As each scene is replayed, we pick up a better understanding of what is being said. And each time it pierces with a different force. When we know that maybe they haven’t the time, it is heart-breaking. At other times it fills us with joy and at times it is just funny. It feels like the perfect time for a revival of Payne’s extraordinary tale of infinite possibilities. But then again, any time is right – it is indeed timeless.
Whether or not you accept or reject the multiverse theory or believe in the notion of free choice, “Constellations” is the obvious choice of theatre to see right now. And if it is within your timeframe (or budget) to choose which cast to watch, I’d certainly try for as many of the four versions as possible.