This isn’t a sponsored post. BrumHour is invited to review productions at Wolverhampton Grand throughout the year.
By Eleanor Lawson twitter.com/Elle_Lawson
SIX at Wolverhampton Grand
Written by Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss, directed by Jamie Armitage and Lucy Moss
“Do you remember us from your GCSEs?”
Catherine of Aragon. Anne Boleyn. Jane Seymour. Anne of Cleves. Katherine Howard. Catherine Parr.
Six women that we all know and we believe we know well. What the six of them have in common? Their tyrannical husband, infamous king and history-maker: Henry VIII. We all know this, but with overfamiliarity, we don’t always learn the right story, and women’s stories have a habit of being erased from history. And so we have Six the Musical: Divorced, Beheaded, Live.
The six wives of Henry VIII have formed their own girl band in a bid to decide which of them has endured the most trauma from the king and is thus most deserving of being head wife. Rejection, adultery, abuse – and you guessed it, decapitation – all justifications they throw at each other in a bid to reign supreme. Each queen has their own solo song in a bid to make their case, and at times the show descends into a catfight. It can be frustrating to see them bickering with each other when you want them to be unified, but the struggle makes the ending far more satisfying, and we still live in a world where women are told to beware women.
It’s no secret that I’ve fallen in love with this musical, having seen it at the Arts Theatre London last year. I was at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2016 where SIX was beginning its story of success, and there was a unique buzz around it even then.
Written by Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss while in their final year at Cambridge, it’s grown from a Fringe darling to a worldwide sensation, having just started its Broadway run alongside tours in the UK and Australia, playing in the West End and even on the Norwegian Cruise Line. This is the musical of the moment, and you can tell it’s the hottest ticket in town from the complete lack of empty seats in the theatre. So why have we all taken it to our hearts so quickly?
SIX’s success is in part due to its stellar soundtrack, with songs that you can and will listen to all day. Its opening number, Ex-Wives, is so electrifying it fizzes in your blood. You want desperately to get on stage with them and sing along, which would be easy enough seeing as I imagine half of the audience knows every lyric off by heart. The songs contain inflections of the identities of the wives which makes each of them distinguishable and personal, from the Salsa-notes of the Spanish Catherine of Aragon’s No Way, to the Europop Haus of Holbein that introduces Anne of Cleves.
Likewise, the costume department are due a roaring round of applause: each character’s outfit is so indicative of how history has perceived their identities to be – chaste or flirty, independent or mousy, their status as femme fatale or angel of the hearth immediately identifiable in their choice of outfit. Right from the moment we lay eyes on them we are confronted with the judgement history has made of them.
There’s plenty of humour, especially from Shekinah McFarlane as Anne of Cleves and Maddison Bulleyment as Anne Boleyn, but it’s also a show that haunts you. Lauren Byrne’s solo Heart of Stone wrenches something deep inside you with her stunning voice, Lauren Drew’s vulnerability as Catherine of Aragon and Athena Collins’s steely resolve as Catherine Parr both carry poignancy. However, it’s Jodie Steele as Katherine Howard that pushes the show to its darkest moments. Groomed by one man after another, her song All You Wanna Do leans into the stereotype history has made her into, sultry and seductive. As the song progresses, she slowly unravels, cracking under the pressure of male manipulation. Howard’s body becomes public property on stage, covered with groping hands until the words she’s sobbing claw into your chest. Jodie Steele is staggering and it’s the last moments of All You Wanna Do that have stayed with me the most.
SIX has utilized a national love of Tudor history with a determination to tell the stories of the women whose voices have been silenced. You can try and be cynical, but you’ll be bewitched from the opening song. Once you’ve seen it, you’re compelled to keep going back.
SIX is at Wolverhampton Grand until 14th March. There are a limited amount of tickets left on sale here: grandtheatre.co.uk/whats-on/six
This isn’t a sponsored post.
Eleanor Lawson presents and produces Interval Theatre Tuesdays at 3pm on Brum Radio.