Who would have known that when we saw the comedy musical duo Hot Gay Time Machine as a guest on Mr Thing at the Edinburgh Fringe back in 2018 that one half of that noble act, Toby Marlow, was on the cusp of striking the theatrical big time with his new fledgling show, Six, co-written with Lucy Moss. I’m well aware that I’m very late to this party, as Six has become a worldwide hit but this was my first time seeing it. It was also my first ever visit to the Belgrade Theatre Coventry, a partly grand, partly municipal building; and I hope it won’t be my last.
You’ll already be aware, gentle reader, that Six is a vehicle for those wives of Henry VIII to get their own back. If all you know is Divorced, Beheaded, Died, Divorced, Beheaded, Survived, you’ve got a big history lesson coming. But this isn’t a po-faced trawl through the textbooks, this is a bright, brash, empowering musical that brings the six women to life, gives them character and humour, plus a little petty jealousy which doesn’t seem unreasonable. Within the framework of an 80 minute, fringe-style show, Marlow and Moss have created one iconic song for each wife to express their personality, their story and their link with the Main Man.
These songs, by the way, are all pretty darn good – very catchy, very tuneful, and reasonably memorable even on just the one hearing. In addition, there are a few more songs for all the cast to join in together. Of course, Six has already acquired itself a massive cult following, so there are always plenty of connoisseurs of the show in the audience, joining in and feeling the vibe. At the end of the day, a musical always relies on its music, and this one has no problems in that department.
But more than simply giving each queen a voice, the show questions our relationship with these six characters, and how it has been moulded over the decades – indeed centuries. We band them together as The Six Wives of Henry VIII, (I blame Keith Michell – showing my age) but they have little in common apart from the fact that they all had the pleasure or otherwise of marrying the king. They were from different backgrounds, different countries, different beliefs; but history has suppressed them so that they only have one facet – whereabouts they come in the list of Divorced, Beheaded, Died, Divorced, Beheaded, Survived.
The show is set in the here and now, on a stage in your local theatre, performed to you and the rest of your audience members. There’s no pretence for it to be anything else, and it sets up a direct relationship between us and the cast. They’re all brilliant too – the six performers act as a superb ensemble whilst still maintaining their characters’ individual personalities. I particularly enjoyed the performances of Chloe Hart as Catherine of Aragon and Jennifer Caldwell as Anne Boleyn, but everyone puts on a terrific show. Lavishly staged, with a great lighting design, superb live playing from the band – the Ladies in Waiting – extravagant costumes and a huge sense of fun, the show comes across as full of personality, attitude and positivity. No wonder it appeals primarily to a female audience; you can forget your Spice Girls, this is real girl power.
Production photos by Pamela Raith