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Review: Six

A bold and brilliant alternative unravelling

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Esther Lafferty
SIX2019JP 00559
Lauren Byrne as Jane Seymour, Jodie Steele as Katherine Howard, Lauren Drew as Catherine of Aragon, Maddison Bulleyment as Anne Boleyn, Shekinah McFarlane as Anne of Cleves, Athena Collins as Catherine Parr. Photo by Johan Persson.

In Lucy Moss and Toby Marlow’s Olivier Award-nominated musical, an energetic cast of Henry VIII’s wives whip through their own summaries of these marriages in an hour and 20 (and the most memorable of history lessons ever). My year 11 son’s teacher actually suggested his class go to see it as revision for their history GCSE, even though academics might not describe this fun-packed frolic as wholly accurate.

This is the Tudor era on space-age acid; a short sharp burst of history that’s more a rock concert than medieval court. Six feisty women in glittering costumes and enviably sparkly boots fill the stage throughout with big personalities and strong choreography, whilst live music is provided by an on-stage four-piece band of Ladies In Waiting. Picture an X Factor-style competition to determine which of the wives has the most terrible time with Henry, as each of the catty contestants take the microphone.

It’s like the Spice Girls reinvented. Each is different, each has her own character, attitude and back-story, and each is vying for the spotlight. Anne Boleyn, famed for losing her head, is an iridescent temptress in serpent green (played by Maddison Bulleyment), whilst Jane Seymour (Lauren Byrne) is more of a rom-com girl-next-door, her song adding a moment of pathos in an otherwise high-octane performance. There’s also a rather fun neon dance club interlude as Anne of Cleves (wife four; played by Shekinah McFarlane) is chosen from across Europe based on the portrait painted of her by Holbein. She may not have matched up to her profile picture but she’s bursting with humour.

When final wife Catherine Parr (Athena Collins) steps up for her turn, she changes the tempo and there’s a gentle twist in mood as she introduces a touch of politics, and employs a couple of choice phrases that could have been lifted from Newsnight this week as she fights for feminism ahead of a girl power finale that has the audience roaring to their feet.

Six is a bold and brilliant alternative unravelling of the most famous fact about Henry’s reign. It’s fantastic fun and if all lessons were like this, children wouldn’t be able to get out of bed fast enough in the morning.

Six is at Oxford Playhouse until 23 November, at Milton Keynes Theatre 25-30 November

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