With the purple carpet signalling their arrival, the six wives of Henry VIII finally arrived at the aptly named Her Majesty’s Theatre. The Tudor Queens had come to share their story, their way, with jazz hands, nay, corna “devil horns” as the case may be.
Written and created by Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss, Six the Musical is a modern-day construct of a musical. It is more akin to a rock/ pop concert than traditional musical theatre.
Told from the perspectives of Catherine of Aragon (Phoenix Jackson Mendoza), Anne Boleyn (Kala Gare), Jane Seymour (Loren Hunter), Anna of Cleves (Kiana Daniele), Katherine Howard (Chelsea Dawson), and Catherine Parr (Vidya Makan), Six concentrates on a competition. A contest to determine which Queen will reign supreme as the lead singer of their band. Unfortunately, the winner is established by who suffered the most at the hand of their mutual ex. It is a first, second, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth ex-wives club if you will, all the while reworking five hundred years of historic heartbreak and despair.
Six is over and above the story of six women scorned. It also offers social commentary on vital subjects, including power imbalance, sexual exploitation of women, and feminism. Topics that are highly relevant today. However, the urgency of these subjects is substituted for a saccharine interpretation for entertainment value. If entertainment is what you are after, this is the perfect show. However, if you are hoping for a thoughtful history lesson drawing profound parallels of a 1500s cisgender, white male patriarchal society to that of the cisgender, white male patriarchal society of 2022, you will be disappointed. Yes, there are ‘fight the patriarchy’ moments and Spice Girl-esque girl power instances, but these are glossed over as lip service.
With a simple set by designer Emma Bailey analogous to a concert stage, each Queen is afforded their 15 minutes in the spotlight with a solo to tell their story. Thanks to Claire Healy’s musical direction, Tim Deiling’s lighting design, and Carrie-Anne Ingrouille’s choreography, Six is thrust into the contemporary.
Inspired by 21st-century artists, each Queen adopts a musical style to sculpt as their own. With the Ladies in Waiting providing sensational instrumental accompaniment, Aragon channels Beyoncé in No Way. Boleyn is inspired by Avril Lavigne as she sings Don’t Lose Your Head. Seymour slows the pace with an Adele inspired ballad Heart of Stone, while Cleve brings it back up à la Rihanna/ Nicki Minaj with Get Down. Dawson captures the style of Ariana Grande and Britney Spears in a bubble-gum pop number All You Wanna Do, and Parr Alicia Keys with I Don’t Need Your Love.
The notion of not needing a man’s love underpins the narrative and needs to be screamed from the rooftops. Ultimately it was by all the Queens when they eventually understood that competing with each other instead of collaborating reinforced the male patriarchy construct.
Lyrically, the music switches between sentimentality and humour depending on the Queen. At all times, the lyrics are blunt, especially when considering the subject matter of trauma and tragedy. This makes sense in the context of a contest to establish who has suffered the most. However, it has the potential to be needlessly provoking or triggering, as does the overall concept. Minor lyrical finessing would serve the production well.
Gabriella Slade’s costuming is a highlight. Copious amounts of glitter and sequins are interwoven with modern Tudor silhouettes ensuring the Queens’ fashion styling complemented their musical styling. This cohesion is impressive and highlights Marlow and Moss’s effort to fully realise each character.
Six packs a lot in its 75-minute timeframe. However, it maintains a good ebb and flow in doing so. While significant matters are sugar-coated, the performance is captivating, humorous, and promotes exceptional talent.
In an era where global juggernaut RuPaul’s Drag Race has altered the vernacular of Generation X, Y, Z, and Millennials, it would be accurate to say that the Queens of Six slayed in the retelling of their herstory.
Theatre Review By Anita Kertes