It’s surprisingly difficult to review something that you loved without stint…but it’s a pretty nice dilemma to be in. Divine lightning struck when Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss created this thrilling musical/concert hybrid which, in case you’ve been living under a rock, reinvents the six wives of Henry VIII (“remember us from your GCSEs?” purrs Jarnéia Richard-Noel’s adorably stroppy Catherine of Aragon at the top of the show) as a sassy, funky girl group. As an idea it’s both deeply silly and hugely inspired, infused with genuine wit, some surprising moments of pathos, and enhanced by an über-camp aesthetic and a really excellent set of pop songs.
Some small scale musicals – think The Boyfriend, Rocky Horror Show or Hedwig And The Angry Inch – can look a bit thin and exposed when uprooted from their modest origins to a broader, more lavish staging but that is emphatically not the case here. What’s playing at the Lyric is effectively Six De-luxe, as everything from Tim Deiling’s rock stadium lighting to Gabriella Slade’s sparkling costumes, Emma Bailey’s glossy set and Paul Gatehouse’s raucous but never overpowering sound design has been given a subtle upgrade.
This apparently brings Moss and Jamie Armitage’s London production in line with the more opulent (and currently suspended, due to Covid-19) Broadway iteration, and it is a total joy to sit through. The only question now is how will the sextet of Queens and their ladies-in-waiting (the sensational all-female band fronted by Katy Richardson) cope with going back to the tiny Arts Theatre after being allowed to run amuck in the larger West End venue to which they seem so much better suited.
The cast album has had more than 100 million streams and the show itself has a vociferous, obsessive fan base. It’s not hard to see why: beyond being fabulous entertainment, Six, for all its froth and fun, has a lot to say about sisterhood and patriarchal oppression. That it does so with a cheeky grin on its heavily made-up face and a spring in its stiletto-ed step is, frankly, verging on the miraculous. Add to that a blithely diverse attitude to casting (the current principal company fields only two white Queens) and you have a show that, despite referencing a historical period dating back over five hundred years, feels bang up to date.
The six women, delivering rangy, belting vocals while whirling through Carrie-Anne Ingrouille’s dynamic choreography, are everything you’d want them to be, and then some. Richard-Noel projects so much warmth as Aragon that you may need ice cubes while Courtney Bowman is a screamingly funny, dangerously sexy Anne Boleyn. All of this is also true of Alexia McIntosh’s utterly glorious, attitude-to-the-max Anna Of Cleves, who authentically stops the show in its tracks with her fierce, hilarious exhortation to “Get Down”. If you’re in the front row you may get an opportunity to get up and boogie with her: consider yourself blessed. And keep an eye on her costume…
Natalie Paris, the only remaining cast member from the original recording and concerts, continues to be a calm, beautiful beating heart amongst all the glitter, as doomed Jane Seymour, with a voice that makes you hold onto your seat and gasp. Aimie Atkinson brought undefinable magic to fifth wife Katherine Howard that is still missed, but the current incumbent of the role, Sophie Isaacs, with shades of a young Barbara Windsor, tackles her big number with a passion, pain and anger that cuts through the fun – an uncomfortable reminder that, for all its frenetic excitement, her main number “All You Wanna Do” is essentially an account of repeated sexual abuse.
Few shows actively promote their cover performers as much as Six does, but when they’re as terrific as Hana Stewart, subbing for Danielle Steers as surviving wife Catherine Parr at the performance I saw, they deserve all the acclaim that gets heaped upon them.
Here is a bona fide crowd pleaser that succeeds in being a rollicking good time while also successfully pushing its feminist agenda: if this is ‘woke’ then who wants to go back to sleep. Six remains irresistible; full of heart, exhilaration and sheer female-powered joy, it stays with you long after the eighty minute performance is over. Unreservedly recommended.