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BWW Review: SIX, Vaudeville Theatre


Herstory is rewritten in this catchy pop musical from Toby Marlow & Lucy Moss.



SIX exploded onto the musical theatre scene in 2017, turning a university theatre group's Edinburgh Fringe production into a storming success that is now performed worldwide - from London to Broadway. And, with a lively pop score, award-winning choreography (from Carrie-Anne Ingrouille) and casts of powerhouse singers, there's no doubt that this Tudor-inspired hit will be gracing our stages for years to come.

After prolonged closures, few shows can welcome audiences back to the theatres with the electricity and tenacity that the queens bring to the stage - and last night's performance was no exception. From Catherine of Aargon's opening quip, "Do you remember of us from your GSCEs?", the audiences are on the edge of their seats (with many trying to stop themselves from singing along). Again, this is no surprise, given that the original cast recording has now been streamed over 100 million times.

The show's premise is simple: what would happen if Henry VIII's wives formed a girl band? (Think Little Mix if they formed c.1540.) And what would happen if these women, who had previously been reduced to just a footnote in the life of a historically awful king, were passed the mic and given a chance to speak? What stories would we hear then?

In short, SIX is an angsty reclamation of history (or herstory), where each queen is given the chance to challenge the fact that she's "just one word in a stupid rhyme." In a concert-style performance, the queens then battle it out to decide who can become the frontwoman of their band - a title awarded to whoever the audience deems to have had it the hardest with good old Henry.

Catherine of Aragon (the electric Collette Guitart) kicks things off with a Beyoncé-inspired retelling of her 24-year marriage to Henry, which resulted in him trying to ship her off to a nunnery - to which she says "No Way".

Anne Boleyn is next, whose song "Don't Lose Ur Head" glosses over some of the meatier parts of her story (the formation of the Church Of England), in favour of talking about how sexy she is. That being said, Bryony Duncan is highly charismatic in the role - successfully pulling off her own take on the character.

Jane Seymour, "the only one he truly loved", follows. Her Adele-inspired ballad "Heart of Stone" presents Jane as a bit of a pushover, willing to stand by Henry no matter what he does. As a result, this song seems a little distanced from the others - it feels like Jane is less interested in retelling her story. However, Natalie Paris (who has starred in SIX since its opening in London) brings undeniable gravity and heart-wrenching emotion to her performance, which saves the song.

"Queen of the Castle" Anne of Cleaves (Cherelle Jay) is next to grab the mic - the queen famous for having "deceived" Henry due to the fact she "didn't look as good as [she did] in her pics". Her fiery "Get Down" brings light and laughter to the production.

Zara Macintosh then gives a standout performance as Katherine Howard, whose number is a retelling of the persistent abuse and over-sexualisation she faced from the age of just 13. While all of the songs written by powerhouse duo Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss have their merits, "All You Wanna Do" is the strongest moment of the production.

Finally, Catherine Parr (Danielle Steers) decides that instead of singing to Henry, she'll sing to the man she actually loved in a touching ballad.

While each of the queens gave a truly royal performance last night, it's worth noting that several of the performers dusting off their platform heels were standbys and alternates - who rarely receive the praise they deserve in the industry. They all played their roles flawlessly, and I look forward to seeing what steps they take next in their career.

With a strong score, SIX is sure to keep audiences entertained - though there are some issues with the narrative (or lack thereof). The framing of the production of a pop concert allows for a lot of fun (with creative staging from Emma Bailey), but it doesn't allow for in-depth exploration of each queen's story - which, considering this is supposed to be reclamation, can at times feel a little bit disappointing. Similarly, the ending of the production seems to tie everything up too neatly.

However, there is an undeniable joy that is born from watching SIX. Here, female characters are given a chance to take up as much space as they want - they are given the agency that is so often missing from other productions. And the pop score is sure to bring in crowds who wouldn't usually consider themselves fans of traditional theatre.

The production has recently moved to the Vaudeville Theatre, which currently has an audience capacity of just 660. But this brings even more intimacy to the performances - making it the perfect home for SIX.

To put it simply, SIX is a joyous production that audiences of all ages can enjoy - though there is no way you'll be able to get the songs out of your head on your journey home.

SIX is currently booking at Vaudeville Theatre until May 2022.

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From This Author Abbie Grundy