Sometimes what happens in real life is more fantastical than the writer of any musical could ever imagine. Take the rise of SIX The Musical as an example. The writers, Lucy Moss and Toby Marlowe, went from students to Tony Award winners with an Edinburgh Fringe musical that has become a worldwide phenomenon.
The musical itself is a fantastical reimagining of the lives of the wives of Henry VIII. With the Queens largely overlooked in favour of their tyrant husband, and their story reduced to the fate they suffered (divorced, beheaded etc.). Moss and Marlowe use modern stylings to retell history, or in their words, her-story.
In the UK, the show quickly transferred to the West End playing to sold out audiences at the relatively small Arts Theatre. Following the pandemic, SIX took up residency at the Vaudeville, and now it’s the turn of the 2023 cast to don the crowns that have propelled previous cast members (especially the originals) to superstardom.
The format of the show is in the style of a concert, with the Queens reimagined as a kind of pop group, singing pop songs that could easily be heard in the charts today, accompanied by their band, The Ladies in Waiting. It begins as a competition, with each trying to prove they were the most hard done by, though this device eventually gives way for a more important message.
The challenge for a new cast is to find a way to make the roles their own, something that’s not a problem here. Indeed, no matter how many of the previous casts you’ve seen, this is the line-up you don’t want to miss. The 2023 Queens make SIX feel like an entirely new show.
It’s a strong start from Rhianne-Louise McCaulsky as Catherine of Aragon, quickly followed by a superbly comic interpretation of Anne Boleyn from Baylie Carson. It’s almost a show-stopping moment from Claudia Kariuki as Jane Seymour with a stunning rendition of ‘Heart of Stone’, and then the audience are wowed yet again with Dionne Ward-Anderson as Anna of Cleves, in a performance that could rival P!nk or Beyonce.
Koko Basigara turns up the sass as Katherine Howard, while Roxanne Couch delivers Catherine Parr’s ‘I Don’t Need Your Love’ with considerable style and grace. By the time we reach the final ‘Megasix’, the audience – who have been loudly appreciative throughout – can barely contain themselves any longer.
Co-directed by Lucy Moss and Jamie Armitage, SIX remains an engaging and uplifting piece of theatre, while keeping the format simple. Carrie-Anne Ingrouille’s choreography is varied and exciting, and Gabriella Slade’s costumes dazzle.
Whether SIX is historically accurate or not doesn’t really matter, if we’ve learnt anything in the past few days it’s that we’ll never really know what goes on behind the palace walls. What is important is that this is a musical that embraces a different genre that allows women to tell their stories, and to highlight the parallels between modern day and centuries ago.