Six review – Henry VIII's wives form girl band to take a pop at history

Arts theatre, London
Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour and co tell their stories in a lively new musical that makes serious points about how women are erased from history

Everyone knows the old rhyme about Henry VIII’s wives: “Divorced, beheaded, died. Divorced, beheaded, survived.” Now, fledgling musical talents Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss offer a chance to see the women live and kicking in a concert. Fed up with only being famous for being married to Henry, the queens perform as a girl band, Six, vying to get their voices heard and their stories told.

“What hurts more than a broken heart?” asks Natalie Paris as Jane Seymour, staking a claim for her story as the saddest. “A severed head,” retorts Christina Modestou, as Anne Boleyn.

It’s a nice idea, neatly done, in a show that began as a student production at last year’s Edinburgh fringe. The show’s potential was spotted and composer George Stiles (of Stiles and Drewe fame) is the executive producer and musical supervisor of this professionally cast version. It’s a lively calling card from Marlow and Moss, whose musical influences are more 21st-century pop than Greensleeves.

Cloaked in silliness but deadly serious … Six.
Cloaked in silliness but deadly serious … Six. Photograph: Josh Bird

The minxy Anne Boleyn sings a catchy Lily Allen-ish number entitled Don’t Lose Your Head and Jane Seymour is the queen of the power ballad. With a torch song to lost love, Izuka Hoyle suggests that there was more than meets the eye to Catherine Parr, the surviving wife who lost the love of her life in marrying the king but used her position to support female education.

It’s seldom laugh-out-loud funny, but it does have an edge, not least in the way it keeps reminding us how women are erased from history. “One word in a stupid rhyme,” complains Aimie Atkinson’s Catherine Howard about her lack of personal profile, before launching into a terrific number which details the way men groomed her from the age of 13.

Genesis Lynea has fun with Anne of Cleves, enjoying divorced life in her own castle, and Renée Lamb is a sharp-tongued Catherine of Aragon, constantly jockeying for position, dismissing Howard as the “least relevant Catherine” and resisting attempts to send her to a convent because she wouldn’t look good in a wimple. It may be cloaked in silliness, but Six makes some serious points about female victimhood and survival.

• At Arts theatre, London, until 22 January. Box office: 020-7836 8463.


Lyn Gardner

The GuardianTramp

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