Since it first appeared at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2017, Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss’s pop musical, SIX, has found international fame. Despite a few setbacks caused by the pandemic, the show has made its way to both the West End and Broadway and had songs go viral on social media. Now, a UK tour brings the show back to where it all began, and it receives a rapturous welcome home.
Anticipations are high, and as soon as the lights go down and the first chords are played by the “ladies-in-waiting” band onstage the atmosphere becomes electric. With dazzling costumes and bright lights, the pop concert feel of the show immediately psychs the audience up for an excellent 80 minutes of pop culture/history.
With a score to settle, each of Henry VIII’s wives sets out to prove that they had the most traumatic life and should be crowned the ultimate queen. Each wife has their own sound, their own musical style, and the opportunity to show off their phenomenal range. The bar is set incredibly high by Chlöe Hart, who tells Catherine of Aragon’s story through a Shakira and Beyonce-inspired number called “No Way” (the inspiration for each queen can be found both online and in the programme). Despite the straightforward premise, the show never feels one-note. The set list is cleverly broken up with heart-breaking pop ballads from Jane Seymour (Casey Al-Shaqsy) and Catherine Parr (Alana M Robinson). There is also the neon-tastic House music number “Haus of Holbein”, that sets up Anne of Cleves’ entrance (Aiesha Naomi Pease).
The lyrics are filled with delightful bouts of word play, and the rivalry between the queens in between songs is hilarious. Jennifer Caldwell is especially excellent as Anne Boleyn, who pettily refuses to let anyone forget that she lost her life and her head. Though most of the action is quite tongue-in-cheek, Moss and Marlow don’t shy away from the troubling facts that have been glossed over by historians over the centuries. During Jaina Brock-Patel’s brilliant solo, “All You Wanna Do”, we see the image of Katherine Howard as a promiscuous young woman fall away, revealing instead a girl who was sexualised from a young age and repeatedly manipulated by the men around her.
Even when you start questioning the premise of the show – asking why the queens have pitted themselves against one another – the show turns itself on its head. This self-awareness of limiting the wives to their failed relationships with Henry VIII allows for their competition to instead become about reclaiming their identities as individual women. It’s a shame that only Parr gets to share her achievements, though whether the other wives were able to achieve anything individually is a question for a historian to answer. Even so, the show ends with an “edited” version of events, wondering how their lives would have been if they hadn’t marry the King of England.
It’s truly a wonderful thing to remember that this show started at the Fringe, taking a rhyme that nearly every British person knows from their school days and making it into a fun yet profound piece of empowering theatre. Without a doubt, SIX lives up to the hype, and you will be sorry to miss this bit of musical herstory.