Six stars of Henry VIII

Rating: 5

Six

by Richard Barber

According to the publicity blurb accompanying its short West Eend run at the Arts ahead of a mini UK tour, new musical six remixes ‘500 years of her-storical heartbreak into a 75-minute celebration of sisterly sassitude’. Pass the sal volatile, someone!

Which only goes to show it never pays to judge something sight unseen. In the event, Six turns out to be the funniest, sexiest new musical since the mighty Hamilton, an intoxicating, life-enhancing slice of 16th- century history that will have you laughing, clapping and bopping around in your seat – and sometimes all at once.

The Six, of course, refers to Henry VIII’s half-dozen wives who met their respective fate, as you’ll recall from those long-ago lessons trawling through the Tudors, thus: Divorced. Beheaded. Died. Divorced. Beheaded. Survived. Now imagine them brought to life by the Spice Girls.

Composer Toby Marlow, with the help of co-writer Lucy Moss, has come up with the bright idea of having all six wives on stage throughout the evening’s short proceedings, each wife attempting to enlist the audience’s sympathy for her particular plight. Apart from an all-female, four-piece band, that’s it: no sets, no scenery, only Gabriella Slade's witty costumes, which somehow combine the feel of two Elizabethan eras, historical and contemporary.

So it is that Katherine of Aragon (a feisty Jarneia Richard- Noel) is first up with her tale of ultimate incarceration in a nunnery as Henry plays the field before settling on minxy Millie O'Connell's doomed Anne Boleyn.

A different note is struck by Jane Seymour, whom Natalie Paris invests with all the smug satisfaction of giving her husband his much-prized son and heir, Edward, before expiring in childbirth. Natalie’s plaintive ballad about always being there for her king will make the hairs stand up on the back of your neck and rightly receives the loudest and longest ovation of the evening.

Alexia McIntosh has huge fun with Anne of Cleves, relegated (pretty uncomplainingly) to a castle on the Thames when her real-life charms don’t match those of the portrait Henry has seen of her in advance. And Aimie Atkinson employs a sly wit to bring Catherine Howard alive although not for very long, of course.

Maiya Quanash-breed has the more difficult task of pouring cold water on the wives’ rivalry, but then Catherine Parr had already seen off two husbands before she buried Henry, so hers is necessarily a more pragmatic view of marriage.

This is a fabulous, mint-fresh new musical that had the audience quite literally whooping with delight. I’m restricted to giving it five stars. But guess what I’d award it if I could? Yup, six!

Go to www.sixthemusical.com to find booking links to the Arts Theatre and then the UK tour to Kingston, Southampton, The Lowry and SEC Glasgow at the end of December

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