Theatre review - SIX the Musical, The Lowry Theatre, Salford
PUBLISHED: 14:49 04 December 2019 | UPDATED: 14:49 04 December 2019
SIX the Musical is absolutely superb, from first note to last
The buzz around SIX has been constant since it first launched two years ago, at the Edinburgh Fringe. Seeking to give a new spin to the story of Henry VIII's six wives, the writers - Lucy Moss and Toby Marlow - created a 70 minute story-telling concert that defies categorisation. It's enough, perhaps, to say that you won't find a better way to spend 70 minutes than this fabulously enjoyable, funny, clever, brilliant show.
The sheer cleverness of the idea is what we must start with. Take the lives of Henry's six wives and shine a new light on them. Let's see them as women with their own stories, not as told by Henry's chroniclers, but in their own voices. It's not history, but 'her-story' as is made plain right at the start of the show. Not only that, but let's bring it forward and give it a contemporary look, feel and sound. Our sisters in matrimony are a feisty, kick-ass girl-band with serious attitude and all the strength they need to make it in what is still, 500 years on from their lives, a man's world. Add fabulous costume, brilliant music (from power ballad to hip hop) and superb casting and you can't go wrong.
It's a whirlwind battle of music and song, as each queen steps forward to tell her story, as if competing for the crown of most important of Henry's wives, the one history should remember.
We start with all six of the wives welcoming us to their live show: here they are, the 'Divorced, Beheaded, Died, Divorced, Beheaded, Survived' of the rhyme we all learned at school - 'remember us from your GCSE's?' calls Catherine of Aragon (Lauren Drew), as she struts to stage front. There follows each wife telling her story, in the most memorable way imaginable, both for today's Insta-generation and their parents.
As the lyric goes: 'I'm done because all this time I've been just one word in a stupid rhyme, so I picked up a pen and a microphone - history's about to get overthrown. Just for you, tonight, we're divorced, beheaded…LIVE!'
Catherine of Aragon, Henry's first wife, played by Lauren Drew is understandably furious. Her life has been ruled by fathers and husbands, since she was sent to England aged 16, to marry a man she had never met, in a language she had never been taught. It's done in the most brilliant, darkly comic style, her Welsh accent and 21st century mannerisms giving power to every word she spits out.
Anne Boleyn (Maddison Bulleyment) is all indignation and pride. Her song, Don't Lose UR Head, is reminiscent of Lily Allen's best, but clever and funny too. She's a shocker in the best Love Island style - 'Sorry not sorry 'bout what I said, I'm just trying to have some fun…'
Sweet Jane Seymour (Lauren Byrne) revels in being Henry's favourite, the only one he ever loved, and professes to have adored him right back - while being fully aware that unless she had delivered a male heir Henry's love was likely to be as temporary as for every other wife.
Anne of Cleves (Shekinah McFarlane) is quite gloatingly happy with her lot and McFarlane is a joy in the role. Her Europop electric 'House of Holbein' is just brilliant. Having been selected by Henry on the basis of her (profile) portrait and then rejected because the reality didn't match the expectation (pretty much every Tinder tale I have ever heard) she is divorced and placed in a vast mansion, with a huge income, and left alone. 'Now I ain't sayin' I'm a gold digger, but check my prenup and go figure…'
Poor young Katherine Howard (Jodie Steel), married to fat Henry at 17, never really stood a chance in Tudor times. Seduced, used and abused hers is a cry for help that echoes down the ages and we all know is still being sung today. Just like Catherine Parr, when the King decides he wants you in his bed, to his bed you must go. Catherine (Harriet Watson) was in love, ready to marry the man of her dreams when Henry spotted her and tore it all down.
Every story has its horror, its pathos and its anger, but our six queens refuse to be defined by what happened to them and instead take history in their own hands and you really, really need to see and hear it told.
SIX the Musical at The Lowry has pretty much sold out, but they have managed to add an extra week however, until 11 January, so make effort to grab some tickets - you'll have to move fast though! thelowry.com/whats-on/six-extra-week/