Six at Arts Theatre
“Just for you tonight, we’re divorced, beheaded, liiiiiiive.” Putting a new twist on the story of Henry VIII’s wives, Six re-imagines them as a pop-power girl group, live for one night only and fighting it out with their tragic tales for the chance to be crowned frontwoman.
Each of the queens, resplendent and sparkling in their angular costumes, gets the chance to put forward her case. Full of historical puns and nods, the songs are enjoyable and funny but occasionally (and perhaps too often) the laughs come from contrasting the audience’s knowledge with the characters’ ignorance. Much of the humour exists on this surface level and it does feel as if there was an opportunity to delve slightly deeper than the production does.
The potential problems with the central concept – a competition in which only one of the women can stand alone at the front, and in which they are united only by their connection to one man – are something the show does deal with, but perhaps too late.
The musical’s strongest moments come when the queens completely own their past – whether it’s Alexia McIntosh’s Anna of Cleves who shrugs off Henry’s shallow and misogynistic judgements about her looks to party at her own private castle in Richmond (retaining a penchant for glowsticks and basements from her Germanic “House” of Holbein roots), or Aimie Atkinson (as Katherine Howard) delivering an honest, troubling and still resiliently sexual recounting of the ways in which various men used and abused her, including Henry. The rest of the cast hold and claw at her as she sings in a highlight of Carrie-Anne Ingrouille’s choreography.
Less successful – technically, theatrically and thematically – are the slower ballads. They simply don’t have the same punch. Take Jane Seymour’s ballad, which asks the interesting question of whether Henry would have loved her had her child been a boy. She’s wistful and soaring, though, and it feels like a wasted opportunity for a discovered anger to burst through.
There’s plenty of fun to be had here, but while the show succeeds in changing the prefix of history for the time its six Queens are on stage, it’s not a musical that lives especially long in the memory.
Photo: Idil Sukan
Six is at Arts Theatre from 30th August until 14th October 2018. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.
Watch the trailer for Six here: