An exhilarating feminist retelling and reclamation of Henry VIII’s six wives
SIX : The Musical is back in Edinburgh with a brand-new dynamic cast at the Festival Theatre from 15 – 26 March.
Written by Toby Morrow and Lucy Moss, this 80-minute experimental and gutsy pop musical first premiered at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2017 and has seen international success since.
Done with the tired stories centring Henry VIII when they talk about his six wives, Six lends a modern voice to each woman with tongue-in-cheek(y) humour blended nicely with the more harrowing aspects of their tales.
My companion and I had fantastic aisle seats in the second row of the dress circle and were treated with a clear view of the stage. We waited a few minutes with bated breathes until the theatre darkened, the first note was played, and the Queens came out showcasing their powerful range of vocals with their opening number ‘Ex-Wives’.
This was my first time seeing the show, but it was lovely to be introduced through the diverse range of woman on stage. Each brought their unique vocal, comedic and acting talents to their characters as they led us on a journey through their remarkable (and often tragic) lives as they battled for the most tragic story.
Chlöe Hart plays Henry’s longsuffering and discarded first wife, Catherine of Aragon, whose loyalty is disregarded for not bearing a living son. In ‘No Way’, Chlöe shows off her large range of vocal highs and lows, bringing both resilience and vulnerability to Catherine that left not a dry eye throughout her performance. A strong opening act.
As the most famous – or infamous – of Henry’s wives, the role of ill-fated Anne Boleyn has been cast countless times, and yet, Jennifer Caldwell revives the character with her youthful devil-may-care attitude in the very modern and delightfully impish song ‘Don’t Lose Ur Head’. This absolute cracker of a song is worthy of a break-up with the Roman Catholic Church.
Lauded as the only wife that Henry truly loved, Casey Al-Shaqsy’s Jane Seymour does a breathtakingly beautiful job of pulling at the audience’s heartstrings. In her rendition of ‘Heart of Stone’, she does the impossible and paints Henry VIII in a sympathetic light as a doting husband. But Jane doesn’t let him off completely. She knows that without her son that love may disappear, but she loves him regardless and each note of this selfless love is evident in her voice.
About halfway through the set, my companion leaned over to whisper that she ‘loves this one’ and as the mood changed with ‘Haus of Holbein,’ it was easy to see why. This fun, quirky and very 80s in fashion introduction to 16th century Germany (or the Holy Roman Empire) brings an immediate levity to stage after Aisha’s tearful set and pokes fun at the absurd and harmful fashion of the time.
Aiesha Naomi Pease’s act as Anne if Cleves was one of my favourites of the night. Many may know Anne best as the queen who didn’t live up to the artist rendering of her – the catfish of her day, you might say – but Aeisha’s dry humour, sardonic looks and powerful vocals in ‘Get Down’ had me completely rooting for the woman who got to keep her head and is far better off without the blood-thirsty king.
Jaina Brock-Patel’s portrayal of Katherine Howard often faded to the background throughout the set, and I believe that was completely intentional and emphasized when the other queens mock her for being the most forgettable queen.
However, when it came to her set, Jaina floored me – and the rest of the audience too if they’re not robots – with her rendering of a very young girl used and abused by the powerful men in her life and then killed for it. Katherine’s song ‘All You Wanna Do’ begins as a fun, upbeat and flirty song but there are undercurrents that have your clenching your teeth. And as it transforms into gut-wrenching and claustrophobic, the walls begin to close in on yourself in the crowded room yet somehow, you feel just as alone as Katherine undoubtedly did.
Catherine Parr – the one who survived – was a remarkable woman: the first English woman to author books in her own name, a protestant reformist and helped pave the way for Henry VIII’s Third Succession Act which saw his two ‘illegitimate’ daughters returned to the line of succession.
Like the risk-taking meditation skills of the original Catherine, Alana M Robinson navigates the competitiveness between the queens with strength in her softness as refusing to be pit up against the other queens. The earnestness and resilience Alana brought to the character as she sings about lost love, being beholden to the whims of a king and yet persevering in ‘I Don’t Need Your Love’ was poignant and uplifting.
Katherine’s message that the queens’ stories matter outside of the king, whether they were beheaded, divorced or if they survived him shifts the mood of the show. The queens pause as realisation hits that they wasted their stage time lamenting about their relationship to Henry when they could have been singing about their own extraordinary lives.
But wait, isn’t that what they had been doing the whole time?
After a cheeky smile from our queens, they declare that they can change their histories and break out into their penultimate song ‘Six’ which has them ditching the king and forming a rock band Jane Seymour names, ‘The Royalling Stones’. It’s a delightful ending that ties the humour and freshness with the ‘girl-power’ message of the show and their encore song ‘Megasix’ goes on to emphasize this.
SIX isn’t about Henry VIII’s six wives: it’s a show about Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Anna of Cleves, Katherine Howard and Catherine Parr’s story and they tell it in spectacular fashion.
SIX is supported by the brilliant all-woman band (The Ladies in Waiting) on keys, guitar, base and drums and absolutely dazzling costumes. Hats off to the writers, directors and choreographers, set designers and other crew who pulled it together – I will definitely be returning to see it again.
For ticket details and more information, click HERE.