If we cast our memories back to school, most of us can vaguely remember learning about Henry VIII. If you did, you would have most likely learnt about his six wives and that ‘divorced’, ‘beheaded’, ‘died’ poem, but not much more about them. In Six, these ladies take centre stage and we gain an insight into their multi-dimensional lives through pop contemporary music. They have these big personalities and fascinating stories to share. The result is Hamilton meets the Spice Girls. It’s fun, fresh, and one of the most original British musicals on the West End I’ve seen in a while.
These queens don’t look quite the same as the ones you’d see in a textbook. The diverse cast members are clad in funky and vibrant Tudor inspired clothing. They have reunited for a 75-minute concert to compete for the coveted title of former wife with the most tragic life. Through the course of the evening, we get a better sense of what these queens experienced. From miscarriages to dealing with mistresses, we learn that they aren’t just another wife, or ‘one word in a stupid rhyme’ but individuals who had lives of their own.
I’m no historian and so can’t assess how accurate it is. However, I was impressed by how the show forces us to think critically about the way in which these women have been presented to us in history as mere supporting characters in Henry VIII’s grand story. Yes, the show can be quite silly in parts. But it is fully aware of this and the playfulness between the queens adds a vibrancy to the lives of woman who have been dulled for centuries.
The pop tunes are catchy and songs such as the ballad ‘Heart of Stone’ or R&B style ‘Get Down’ reminds me of songs from current music artists such as Adele, Dua Lipa and Fifth Harmony. It uses contemporary music to make the narrative feel more current, much in the same way that Hamilton was successfully able to do. In Haus of Holbein, a German techno pop number for example we see how the German Anne of Cleves is essentially rejected by Henry VIII as she didn’t look like her ‘profile picture’ in the portrait he first saw of her.
Six was created as a passion project by Lucy Moss and Toby Marlow, just two university students at the time. They were given the opportunity to take a new show to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2017. Two years later, following a limited West End stint and UK tour, the show has returned to the Arts Theatre for an open-ended run and has already announced international productions.
Quite recently, I’ve seen a few musicals which have left me feeling cold. Just when I feared that I might be falling out of love with musical theatre, I see Six and it knocks me sideways. I’ve tried to put my finger on exactly why this is the case. I think I connected with it so much because we live in a time where we long to see fierce and dominant women and Six plays to that market. It has this infectious energy and carries this ‘girl power’ flag, a movement from the 90s which resonated with so many young girls and boys at the time. If we were taught about history in the way that Six approaches it, I probably would have paid more attention in class.
Six is running at the Arts Theatre and booking until January 2020 at the time of writing.