Vaudeville Theatre – booking until 29 October 2023
Reviewed by Claire Roderick
The phenomenal pop-concert musical about Henry VIII’s wives continues to be fantastic fierce fun, changing history into HERstory with flair and attitude. The new cast of Queens taking their thrones are an incredible ensemble with boundless energy and attitude – and talent that blows the roof off the theatre.
Everybody remembers the divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived rhyme, but in Six the wives get to step into the limelight and decide to tell their sob stories so that the audience can vote for the wife that has suffered the most to become the lead singer of the group, accompanied in style by the Ladies in Waiting of the wonderful onstage band (Lauren Hopkinson, Alice Angliss, Emma Jemima and Kelly Morris).
Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss’s exuberant celebration of the women in the shadow of the king gives a sassy twist to everything we think we know about these women, in a glorious range of styles inspired by female musical icons with wise and witty lyrics. Rhianne-Louise McCaulsky is a total diva as Catherine of Aragon, demanding to know what exactly she did to deserve Henry’s shoddy treatment of her in a barnstorming number, followed by Baylie Carson’s comedic take on Anne Boleyn as a girl who just wanted to have fun in the hysterical “Don’t Lose Ur Head”. Linking the numbers is some bitchy banter between the queens that could be a little hit and miss with a weaker ensemble, but these Queens nail every line. There are some cracking one-liners, mostly from the younger wives, Anne and Katherine Howard, and the other Queens’ reactions are sublime.
There is a complete change in tone as Jane Seymour tells her story, with Claudia Kariuki showing her impeccable vocal skills and stage presence in her power ballad, Heart of Stone, that allows the audience to breathe, and some to sob, before the tempo reaches fever point again as Anne of Cleves takes centre stage. Let’s face it, we all know the story of the Holbein portrait, but not much about Anne’s life after divorce. Six has a wonderfully bonkers number “Haus of Holbein” showing the selection of a wife from her “profile picture” before Anne sings about her “terrible” life as a divorcee – the gleeful “Queen of the Castle” showcases her life of wealth and privilege in Richmond with loads of swagger. The West End has always found an insanely charismatic Anne in each cast change, and Dionne Ward-Anderson is possibly the best yet, full of sly looks and fierce attitude that win the audience’s heart instantly. Koko Basigara’s Katherine Howard is a brilliantly imagined teenage hedonist whose understanding of the appalling way older men use her becomes clearer with each “romance” and chorus until she stands alone and numb at the end of her song.
The roster of fierce characters somehow pale into insignificance when the survivor, Catherine Parr tells her story. Roxanne Couch quietly and calmly describes her life of widowhood and lost love as she is chosen by Henry, and her number begins as a letter to her love before morphing into an angry wail against Henry and the misogyny of the Tudor age. This is where the feminist message truly leaps to the fore, making the previous girl power moments in the show seem very flimsy and vacuous, which is exactly as it should be. This was a Queen who entered the marriage with eyes open and tried to use her position to change things for the better. The faux bitchiness and competitiveness of the wives plays with societal expectations and norms that reality TV and dramas portray, with the message of sisterhood, support, diversity and freedom of choice shining through in the final section.
The energy of the cast is phenomenal, and this carries the audience along on a huge wave of enthusiasm and joy. Six is an unbeatable night out – a true jewel in the crown of musical theatre.