”Divorced, Beheaded, Died, Divorced, Beheaded, Survived.”
That’s normally how we think about Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves, Catherine Howard and Catherine Parr. But in ’Six the Musical’ – a concert-like musical written by Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss – it is completely different.
For starters, you could hear the excitement of the audience when the show was about to begin, and the costume design was fabulous. I loved how the queens followed each other on stage saying each of the words they’re remembered by, and how each queen had her own specific style. You could see this in personality as well as style, and the Retro design for the ‘Haus of Holbein’ song added an even more energetic style to an already very energetic show.
Away from the costume and set design though, I loved how each of the songs were performed, and the relationships each wife had with each other, as well as the jokes that were told throughout. The relationship between Catherine of Aragon (played in this performance by Lauren Drew) and Anne Boleyn (played by Maddison Belleyment) was a modern day twist on what you would expect from the faithful wife and the original ‘other woman’, which actually mixed very well with the entire narrative of the musical. As someone who has listened to the soundtrack and looked up videos of the performance on YouTube for the last year, it has always been the songs ‘Don’t Lose Ur Head’ and ‘Six’ – the final song – that has always got me, and I did have to fight very hard not to sing during those songs, but made do with head dancing during the bits that I found too difficult instead. But the jokes told actually made those songs work, and although I know that historians like my parents would object to the ‘bad girl, not too politics minded’ Anne Boleyn character, I do think the portrayal I saw made her the best queen overall. Mix in Jane Seymour (played by Caitlin Tipping), and the Anne Boleyn jokes became even better: from the “Oh do you know what’s worse than dying after giving birth to your child? Having your head chopped off” joke; to the “Well I actually bore him a daughter and he cut my head off”, I actually found that these jokes added more humour to the musical than it would have if they weren’t there, and the “So yes, I got beheaded”, after ‘Don’t Lose Ur Head’ was too funny not to laugh at. Nearer to the end, I also loved how Catherine A would argue about how many mistresses the king had during the time she was married to him, just for Anne B to come back with “Well do you want to know how bad my time was? During our marriage I had not one but five miscarriages!” This rivalry, however, I think also let the other queens show their own characters, especially Anne of Cleves (played by Shekinah McFarlane), Catherine Howard (played by Vicki Manser) and Catherine Parr (played by Eléna Gyasi) – in a way that actually teaches their own history better than schools do, and makes them look like the peacemakers.
So what did I think of the entire performance overall? Well as the daughter of a historian – and of two people who did history at university – I can say going to see ‘Six’ in person has taught and made me realise stuff about the six wives – and women’s rights – that I would have rolled my eyes at and not paid any attention to when they tried to explain it to me for 23 years. Having all the wives reaching peace with each other and realising how they are connected to each other through marrying the one man was the best ending, and the words of the two last songs are clearer to me now than they were a night before seeing it. The fact that it’s an all female cast and that the band on stage with them are referred to as the Ladies in Waiting, makes it historic, and the fact that Henry never appears makes it even better. The last thing worth mentioning is that despite the fact that the wives in most cases didn’t have happy endings, they do give us an edited version of a happy ending, since it is their show, which makes it even better.
So overall, I will give this performance *****, and it was a brilliant welcome back to the theatre life. I would definitely pay to see it again.
‘Six’ is currently on a UK and Ireland Tour, and I saw it on its last night in Northern Ireland. It is currently on until the 16th of October in the Bord Gáis theatre in the Republic of Ireland.