Anyone who’s sat through any kind of lesson in English history knows the story of King Henry VIII and his infamous six wives, but it’s a story so often told from the men’s perspectives.
Enter SIX creators Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss. By taking the Tudor tyrant out of the picture completely, they focus the spotlight firmly on the six women who helped to define him for over four centuries, with little more than a six-word rhyme to remember them by.
Now, with its pop concert-style staging and music, glitzy costumes and on-stage band – referred to as ladies-in-waiting – SIX gives the famous Tudor Queens their own unique voices and identities. All of which are delivered in spectacular fashion by Lauren Drew, Maddison Bulleyment, Lauren Byrne, Shekinah McFarlane, Jodie Steele and Athena Collins. Both individually and collectively, the six wives tell their tales of love, loss and death, with each competing for the title of the true ‘Leading Lady’. There’s the strong-willed and pious Catherine of Aragon; the scandalous temptress Anne Boleyn; the tragically innocent Jane Seymour; the cheated and scorned Anne of Cleves; the ambitious but overlooked Catherine Howard, and the voice of reason that is the survivor Catherine Parr.
With a story as timeless as this, it’s only natural for the cast and crew to put a little twenty-first century spin on things, and in the case of SIX, it’s refreshing to see a clever balance of old and new. Anne of Cleves’ portrait becomes known as her “profile pic”, and each Queen’s glamorous (and mostly modern) costume offers a hint of Tudor style while still being unique to each character. Moreover, the liberal sprinkling of word-play in the lyrics, including “histo-remix”, “live in consort” and “let’s get in re-formation” create an overall vibe that’s both amusing and relatable to audience members.
What really makes SIX shine brighter than the protagonists’ sparkling high heels, though, is the true transcendent quality of their legacies. Each story touches on trauma, heartbreak, and the age-old double standards in appearance and behaviours that existed – and arguably still exist – between men and women. The irony may have been lost on a Tudor-era audience, but these themes certainly have the potential to resonate with contemporary listeners four hundred years after the fact.
If there is any fault at all to be found with this modern-medieval musical mix, it’s how quickly the whole show goes in. Lasting only an hour and a half with no interval, SIX is a rush of catchy tunes, glittering costumes and dialogue between the Queens that is by turns fierce and funny. No sooner is the audience swept up in the whirlwind of neon ruffs, decapitation jokes and spine-tingling songs, than they are on their feet for the final number of the night.
Whether this sense of brevity is a testament to just how engaging and enjoyable SIX is, or a subtle indictment of how little is known about these women compared to the husband they all shared is open to debate. What can be conceded, however, is that to draw the show out any further would risk upsetting its intense and exciting dynamic. Better to hunger for a little more, perhaps, than to give in to gluttony.
Forget divorced, beheaded, died; divorced, beheaded, survived. After seeing SIX, the wives of Henry VIII can and should be forever remembered as more than brides, mothers or adulteresses. They were women, they were Queens, and in the modern day, they know how to slay.