Review: SIX the Musical (Vaudeville Theatre)

The Queens are back in the castle, or at least their new forever home at the Vaudeville, following a stint at the Lyric and a UK tour.

I last saw SIX in January 2019, right at the start of its West End journey. You know the story of how two Cambridge students, Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss (who also directs) created this Tudor “herstory”, took it to Edinburgh, and recently opened it after COVID delays on Broadway.

The premise is simple: Henry VIII’s six wives all come together as one girl group to present a concert competition about who is the most tragic, before finding that sisterhood and reclaiming their stories moves them away from simply being “Ex-Wives”.

Promotional photo from SIX the Musical

Over ten songs, each Queen gets her time in the spotlight. You may know them “from your GCSEs””, and right now you can head to the Gielgud to see wives three to five in a very male-dominated The Mirror and the Light, the final part of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall trilogy. I saw that the afternoon after SIX to make a Tudor double.

You don’t have to be a Tudor expert to enjoy SIX on its own merits – like every other adaptation it plays with the facts as popularly known. It might add another layer if you know the story of these ladies; otherwise, just enjoy the show.

On the night I was invited to review, two members of the 2019 cast were in their original roles. Jarnéia Richard Noel and Alexia McIntosh are Catherine of Aragon (1st wife of twenty years, divorced) and Anne of Cleves (4th wife, “I didn’t look like my profile picture”, divorced). They are adept at making their parts stand out as ladies who carry their lot with well-constructed sarcasm.

Main cast member Sophie Isaacs is Katharine Howard (5th wife, beheaded), her tiny frame giving quite a different level of vulnerability to her role as abused temptress. Super swing Collette Guitart, who regularly plays all the Queens (all hail) was on as Jane Seymour (3rd wife, died in childbirth), making her role both sweet and steely.

Promotional photo from SIX the Musical

Alternates Cherelle Jay and Hana Stewart complete the line-up as a politically-unaware Anne Boleyn (2nd wife, beheaded, “sorry not sorry”) and Catherine Parr (6th wife, survived). Jay’s Boleyn is a multi-texting and sexting airhead but adds fun to the piece; and Stewart gives Parr gravitas in her power piece after getting the others to “go and sit down”.

The choreography (Carrie-Anne Ingrouille) and staging remains strong, especially noticable in the numbers for Seymour and Howard. Set and costumes have been updated since the early days to match the Broadway production with matching fishnets and lots of bling, while modern textspeak and apps get their moments.

I expect SIX to have a long and happy life here, with new Queens putting on their crowns from 16 November. This is a fun evening – just 80 minutes of power pop gently ribbing your favourite lady singers from Rihanna to Adele through a Tudor lens. Don’t miss.

SIX the Musical continues at the Vaudeville Theatre. More information here.

Image credit: Pamela Raith