The Arts Theatre

The school curriculum prepares you for many things. Although I have a fondness for the story of the Henry VIII, I’m not sure I’d call learning about him a useful life skill. The fiery Tudor King, who ruled in the early 1500s, was known not only for mixing up the religious landscape of England, but also for his six wives. So finally, roughly 25 years after I personally learned about them, knowing these wives were “divorced, beheaded died; divorced beheaded survived” has come in handy. Six is a fun and notably brief period musical with all the wives taking to the mic to tell their stories with wicked wit.

Six is a fun and notably brief period musical with all the wives taking to the mic to tell their stories with wicked wit.

Considering the time period, I expect harpsichord versions of modern pop songs, but that’s not what I’m gifted. Instead, I get performances that grab the 16th century by it’s (now leather) ruff, pulling it forward to the modern day. Sure, it’s pop-inspired but this musical melee feels more like when I went to go see The Saturdays in concert, notwithstanding some great set design by Emma Bailey and Lighting from Tim Deiling. The staging is completed by a note-perfect, all-female band with drums, guitar, bass and keys by Alice Angliss, Amy Shaw, the fantastic Terri De Marco and Arlene McNaught respectively. Each number could be a chart-topper in it’s own right, delivered vocally by six superbly talented women.

Catherine of Aragon is played by Jarneia Richard-Noel who makes her off-West End debut, stepping to with the others to Carrie-Anne Ingrouille’s frankly excellent choreography like a seasoned pro. She gives a wonderful vocal performance punctuated by deliciously expressive acting. And the costume design? It’s no surprise to discover it’s award-winning. A large chunk of my attention is given to Catherine of Aragon’s sequinned, almost clown-like outfit with its puffed sleeves so reminiscent of that period of time, yet so fresh. Hats off to Gabriella Slade for the stunning and eclectic compote of fabrics, from the aforementioned leather ruffs down to the detail of the subtle microphone loops on the belts of the performers.

Millie O’Connell’s rendition of the millennial inspired Don’t Lose Your Head (geddit?) is one for the kids, with lashings of modern social media references and abbreviations. Is this how sassy the later beheaded Anne Bolelyn would have been? I’m convinced. My face hurts from my open-mouthed smile, yet despite some relief from this, it’s still jarring when a somewhat abrupt change in pace comes from Jane Seymour’s sad and slow big ballad, forgiven only by the flawless emotional vocal performance by Natalie Paris.

We again pick up the pace with a transitional song set at a Berlin discotheque that doesn’t take itself too seriously. I’m sold. I love this. Think strobe lighting, oversized glow in the dark sunglasses and the performers throwing comedic shapes. Lyrically so witty. By this point I’m laughing so hard that I think I can’t be any further entertained. Then the star of the show appears and dials it up. Without a doubt Get Down is the best of the bunch, it’s a bone ride club banger that I immediately want to see if I can download. You’ve never seen Anne of Cleves brought to life like this; Alexia McIntosh BRINGS it. She channels confidence, sass and fun like no other. The cheers from the crowd confirm this as fact.

Each number could be a chart-topper in it’s own right, delivered vocally by six superbly talented women.

The tempo is maintained by winner of the prestigious BBC Radio 2 Voice of Musical Theatre Award Aimee Atkinson, who does Anne of Cleves real justice against a spectacular performance by the band with some very tasty bass. Mary Quansah-Breed also makes her West-End debut, as the “surviving” wife Catherine Parr. Her voice is silky as Alicia Keys with a look to match. The women come together for a couple of songs at the end, delivering a concluding message, which I won’t spoil for you, with a flourish.

And then, all too soon it’s over…I’m left wanting more. Creators Tony Marlow and Lucy Moss have stated they want to keep the show as short as it is, citing it as something for the “Netflix generation”. Maybe I’ve gotten old, but I sincerely believe it would benefit from an extra 20 mins. It’s a rare thing indeed to come away from the theatre thinking it’s too short, but that’s my conclusion. It makes the ending feel a little clumsy and somewhat unbalanced, like a second half has been omitted.

I’m sure Six will continue to win many more deserved awards. Go see it, you’ll have far too much fun for a history lesson.

NEED TO KNOW: Six is at the Arts Theatre until January 2020 | BOOK TICKETS