If you’ve been in any contact with the British musical theatre industry in the past three years, you’ve likely heard of Six. Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss’ reimagining of the six wives of Henry VIII has been taking the world, including Broadway and Australia, by storm since its debut as a student production at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2017. Six sees all six queens of England reunite to remix five hundred years of historical heartbreak and they take back the microphone with full force.
I have been lucky enough to see Six in the Arts Theatre, its home on the West End, twice. Once during the very first UK tour during the early stages of the show’s development in 2018 and then a second time when it returned to the Arts for its permanent run in 2019. This was no accident. I have a considerable interest in Plantagenet and Tudor history, particularly in the monarchs defining those periods and I’ve devoured countless books and documentaries depicting the lives of the six queens brought to life by Six. My initial impression of my very first viewing was relief at the sensitivity given to these historical narratives, which I’ll detail further below, but I was a little disappointed in the connecting dialogue. On my second viewing the show proved far more cohesive and the dialogue significantly improved so I was excited to see the show on tour following significant periods of development from the international productions and cast changes.
I’m going to mix up my review structure with this one and lead with my summary, and final thoughts then go further into the cast. This works for Six as the show truly is a collective from the actors to the band and the technical elements, so I’m going to bring them together first before discussing each actress.
This touring production shows off what Six is meant to be. It is a perfect example of this gorgeous show. The tour is visiting a variety of smaller and large-scale venues, but I really wanted to see how the show would fair in the extremities of the Wales Millennium Centre. The cast effortlessly filled the large venue and their chemistry as a group down to their individual portrayals make them the perfect cast. However, in the moment the true star of the show is the choreography effortlessly blending with the voices, lighting and the music from the band to create a stunning spectacle and fantastic night out. The costumes also deserve a museum exhibit of their own, but they come to life with the cast’s energy and the choreography. There are so many intricate details across the comedic lyrics injected with double meanings, the historically informed costumes, and the choreography blending energy and elegance.
There you go, that is my entire review. Everything across this production is just a spectacle to behold and a testament to skilful choreography and costume design alongside a talented cast and music. Following my initial feelings, I will also note that the connecting dialogue has become far more natural and seamless in this later production with an effortless rivalry and friendship across the group of queens.
Lauren Drew certainly doesn’t need sizeable golden shoulder pads to demonstrate her presence on stage as the Spanish paragon of royalty Catherine of Aragon. Even in just a temporary costume, Drew surpassed all expectations with her sarcasm and sass setting every tone for the rest of the show while she kept up her powerful vocals during a demanding dance routine. Her Welsh accent, heightened during her time at home in Cardiff, is genuinely adorable and adds to the hilarity of the “okay” speech right before ‘No Way’.
Maddison Bulleyment embodies Anne Boleyn’s rebellious streak. She adds believability to Anne Boleyn’s destructive reactions to her precarious, even dangerous, situation at court. The casting of Bulleyment alongside Lauren Byrne as Jane Seymour also embodies the genuine transition of Henry’s court from hectic, passionate rebellion towards a calmer grace across the two queens. However, Byrne’s voice embodies the “stick around and you’ll suddenly see more” line from ‘Ex-Wives’ as, despite the stature of a delicate English rose, her powerful vocals effortlessly fill the room with an electric emotion during ‘Heart of Stone’. Following her tearful opening speech, you can’t help but feel for her portrayal of Seymour, but I was pleased to see Byrne play to Seymour’s more manic, angry, and darkly comedic dialogue later in the show.
Arguably, ‘Get Down’ requires the most energy and personality from the actress for Anne of Cleves to get it off the ground. Shekinah McFarlane delivers far more than what is expected of her to simply get the song going. She consistently goes above and beyond with her infectious energy, comedic timing and real confidence. I’ve always wanted to see her after watching the Megasix of her Cleves debut at the Arts as she seemed to fit into the role perfectly from day one.
I will be the first to admit that Katherine Howard is the queen who has captured my imagination as her story has demonstrated that sometimes historians must admit they could have been wrong. Initially, she has been thought of as a seducer out for her own gain, but recent opinion and research has realised the underlying narrative of an abuse victim and a life cut tragically short by circumstances she was never prepared for. On tour, Howard is played by endlessly talented Jodi Sam Steele whose recent roles, including Heather Chandler and Sherie from Rock of Ages, exude confidence in their own bodies. Steele’s interpretation of Howard is a similar combination of sweetness, charm with a playing bite, naivety and confidence in her looks. While I did miss the utterly shocking and heart-wrenching screams of terror from Aimie Atkinson’s portrayal which hammered home the unique nature of the role, Steele’s depiction shows a slightly slower breaking spirit into a crying shattered girl and proved just as emotional. Generally, I’m very proud of Six for the gentle and appropriate handling of Katherine Howard’s story and the presentation of both sides of her narrative.
Athena Collins embodies all of Catherine Parr’s intelligence and presence with a softer attitude and method of delivery echoed in the evolution of ‘I Don’t Need Your Love’ throughout the show. Her speech to the other queens highlighting the issues with the, totally not staged to highlight these exact issues *wink*, competition between them does not feel preachy in any way. She is relatable with a gorgeous voice which could easily see her at home in shows like Hamilton in the future. I will undoubtedly be watching Collins’ career with bated breath to see the shows she goes on to.
Overall, I won’t repeat too much. As you can tell this review is just a long gushing description of how wonderful the six actresses are, the insane choreography alongside incredible lighting and music from the onstage band. This production is what Six was always meant to be and I’m incredibly proud that they are where they deserve to be.
Six is selling out so quickly! However, they’re doing plety of performances to make sure everyone can see them. The UK Tour has extended with returns to Bath, for example, until November 2020. Head over to the SIX UK and Ireland Tour dates to find the closest venue to you and look for tickets. The show is also booking at the Arts Theatre in London’s West End until January 2021 and you can book tickets here.
Goodreads: Vicky Lord
No links in this blog are affiliate links or sponsored and I bought my tickets myself from personal interest.