Kenny Smith enjoys a musical history lesson.
SOMETIMES bringing history to life in a way that will engage a younger generation can be difficult.
Remembering monarchs of the past, where their wives came from, and indeed, the order in which they married Henry VIII – and how they died, can be difficult if it’s not presented in an engaging way.
But then, along comes SIX. It’s a staggeringly simple and brilliant idea, that, amazingly, hadn’t been thought of before. What if Henry VIII’s six wives had got together to form a contemporary girl group, with songs about their lives?
SIX is currently appearing at Glasgow’s Theatre Royal, and if you’re looking for something that’s informative, and above all, fun. It also proves that Girl Power began long before the Spice Girls in 1996!
The opening number, Ex-Wives, is an ingenious opener, as it incorporates Greensleeves, reputedly written by Henry VIII, and very much setting the scene – ‘Divorced, Beheaded, Died. Divorced, Beheaded, Survived.’ We meet each of the wives in turn, Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Anna of Cleves, Katherine Howard and Catherine Parr. There’s nods to so many contemporary songs in there, which very much sets the tone of the piece – cheeky, historical, a little sexy, and most of all, fun.
No Way is Catherine of Aragon’s opener, brought to life by Chloe Hart, as we get to know her story: ‘My name’s Catherine of Aragon, Was married 24 years, I’m a paragon, Of royalty, my loyalty is to the Vatican, So if you try to dump me you won’t try that again…’ It’s a brilliant way of bringing history to life, as we learn Henry tried to place her in a nunnery.
My favourite, straight up, was Don’t Lose UR Head from Anne Boleyn (Leesa Tulley). Tulley brings real attitude and a flirtiness to the part, as well as a broad Glaswegian accent, which went down well with the audience, and her rendition of the number is full of sass and sounds to contemporary – you could imagine this in the charts. Think Lily Allen or Avril Lavigne. “Ooh, ohh, I want to dance and sing, Politics… not my thing.” And the chorus of ” is utterly catchly “Sorry not sorry ’bout what I said; LOL… Say oh well or go to hell…”. Brilliant. It applies modern vernacular to the period and makes it come alive.
From an energetic number, we move to a more romantic ballad with Jane Seymour (Casey Al-Shaqsy), very much in the style of Adele. It’s an appropriate song for someone who was Henry’s true love, “You can build me up, You can tear me down, You can try, but I’m unbreakable.” It’s a beautiful number and helps set a different tone entirely. Casey has a beautiful voice.
Between numbers, we’re treated to banter between the wives, especially Anne and Jane, with Anne pulling everything back to the fact she was beheaded. It’s truly hilarious, especially with all of the innuendo throughout.
We then move onto Anna of Cleves, the wife Henry married based on seeing a portrait of her (and we get to see him swiping left on others before a Tinder right swipe to pick this wife!). Jessica Niles brings so much fun to the part, and takes centre stage in two numbers – Haus of Holbein draws on Anna’s German background, featuring a combination of German folk music and house music (think Scooter, without the shouting), and had me in stitches. Her second number, Get Down, is very much in the Nicki Minaj mould, and features the old King of the Castle nursery rhyme. It’s fast and ridiculously clever, and the staging is first class -it’s hard not to want to sing along to her as Queen of the Castle.
Then Katherine Howard (or K Howard) takes over (played by Jaina Brock-Patel), and is another of those more tragic queens, having been beheaded, but again, it’s an upbeat song and full of cheek and flirtatiousness. This is very Britney Spears – “I think we can all agree I’m a ten amongst these threes.” She’s very much a flirty character, who moves from man to man, until she hits the king. Her song gets four choruses – and when she’s singing “Squeeze me, please me, birds and the bees me”, I was howling with laughter. There’s a hugely tragic element to her story, as she only ever really wanted to be truly loved.
We then meet Catherine Parr (Alana M Robinson), who plays out the life of Henry’s last queen: “Five down, I’m the final wife. I saw him to the end of his life.” Robinson’s American accent sets her apart, and she’s the most contemporary of the six wives in many ways, ending the squabbling between them as they bicker about who was the most tragic of them all, and in real life, had a woman paint her portrait. The number is wistful in many ways, feeling like an Emeli Sande number.
There final number, MegaSIX, is a megamix of the queens’ different songs, and merges the styles seemlessly – it’s an incredible closing number, and Leesa Tulley certainly enjoyed appearing on home turf, with the crowd taking great joy in her broad Weegie accent. And she deservedly got a wee selfie for her Instagram at the end.
For each of the numbers, the words are brilliant and you have to listen to them. They are full of wit, intelligence, history and fun. I couldn’t have told you the order of Henry’s wives before this show, and how each of them died. Now, I can…
A word of mention too for the ladies in waiting – the band, who perform on stage throughout, and were first class, with Jenny Deacon on keys, Migdalia Van Der Hoven on drums, Laura Browne on guitar and Ashley Young on bass. All fantastic.
The whole show runs for 75 minutes with no interval. It’s ideal for a Netflix generation, but for those who live a pop concert condensed into one production. It’s very simple staging – clever lighting sets the background with bulbs along, and there’s a four-piece all female band on stage too.
The joy of SIX. I really want to go again. It genuinely is a magical show which had myself and my daughter laughing and smiling. There’s a touch of smut and innuendo, and the naughty words are Shhhh-ed out by the other queens.
SIX is at the Theatre Royal in Glasgow until Sunday, 19 June. Book tickets HERE.