Totes amazeballs and halle-flippin-lujah! It may have taken eight months, but London finally has its first solid gold, bona-fide, new, home-grown musical hit of 2018, and it’s more than worth the wait.
Six, which hasn’t so much opened at The Arts Theatre as been created by some magical Svengali of dramatic munificence, is fresh, funky, and in the shape of the protagonists and four-piece on-stage band, fiestily female.
Part pop concert, part life-affirming celebration of womanhood, and part non-linear historical delve into the lives of a particular set of Tudor queens, it’s a show that really does defy being boxed in. As the opening number rightly says ‘We’re one – of a kind – no category’.
Marlow and Moss met whilst at Cambridge University and Six does owe a lot to that place’s long history of revue, but brought bang up to date. This is renaissance Europe told with Snapchat and Tinder. It’s the bastard love-child of David Starkey and Simon Cowell hired to teach GCSE history using Beyonce, Rihanna, and The Spice Girls, dressed in Liberace’s off-cuts.
At its core, it’s the story of six women who, though at first in competition with each other, and defined by the particular monarch they married, finally gain empowerment by concluding that actually, they’re better off sticking together and being defined by their sisterhood.
All of that told using a pop vernacular which still finds plenty of space for some wonderfully witty lyrics:
‘My name’s Catherine of Aragon,
Was married 24 years, I’m a paragon.
Of royalty, my loyalty is to the Vatican
So if you try and dump me you won’t try that again…’
After an absolutely textbook (in a very good way) opening number (‘We’re one of a kind’…a pop earworm that’s still drilling its way around my brain) during which the style of the show, the individual foibles of the protagonists, and their particular wants are set up, each is then given the space for their own narrative as they vie for the title of top wife.
Jarneia Richard-Noel as Catherine of Aragon is a woman wronged.
Millie O’Connell as Anne Boleyn was the bit of fluff who lost her head, and won’t let you forget it.
Natalie Paris as Jane Seymour was the love of the king’s life, who provided him with an heir, that she died giving birth to.
Alexia McIntosh as Anne of Cleves is the German princess savvy enough to get a prenup, and sassy enough to enjoy the fruits of it when things didn’t turn out as planned.
Aimie Atkinson as Katherine Howard is the worldly-wise abuse victim who’s learned how to sleep her way to the top.
Maiya Quansah-Breed is the survivor…literally.
All are utterly brilliant, and I have no intention of choosing between them. That being said, there are a couple of stand-out songs in a score which is itself an embarrassment of pop-tastic riches.
Hans Holbein, England’s Germanic court painter, was sent off to the schlosses and palaces of renaissance Europe to capture the likenesses of prospective monarchical brides, his portrait of Anne of Cleves being famously rather more attractive than the fleshly sitter. The utter originality of the song ‘House of Holbein’ almost had me gagging with laughter, being a day-glo infused German-techno (obviously) telling of the story utilising the tropes of Tinder. The subsequent joy and empowerment in Anne of Cleves song, which could have been a tear-stained paean to rejection was, for me, the highlight of the show.
Six may have been a long time coming, but is now inexplicably only scheduled to be at The Arts until 14th October. It NEEDS a cast recording. It NEEDS to be seen by as many people as possible. It NEEDS to be around for a lot longer than six weeks.
Buy a ticket. You will thank me.
- By Toby Marlow & Lucy Moss
- Directed by Lucy Moss & Jamie Armitage
- Book, Music, & Lyrics by Toby Marlow & Lucy Moss
- Cast includes: Jarneia Richard-Noel, Millie O’Connell, Natalie Paris, Alexia McIntosh, Aimie Atkinson, Maiya Quansah-Breed
- Arts Theatre
- Until 14 October 2018