SIX THE MUSICAL

★★★★★★

_REVIEW.   it’s about _THEATRE.   words _KYLE PEDLEY.
  at _WOLVERHAMPTON GRAND.   tickets _OFFICIAL SITE.   booking until _3rd MAR.

February 28, 2024

images © Pamela Raith.

Divorced. Beheaded. Died. Divorced. Beheaded. Survived.

Six the Musical can comfortably afford to do pretty much any and all of the above to any theatre reviewer that may dare to come for it. Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss’ rampaging, eighty-minute cultural juggernaut is a thing of such surefire demand and adoration that it’s one of the few surefire bets in musical theatre you can safely call ‘critic proof’. It’s hard to recall a show with such a fervent, dedicated fanbase. Wicked? Or do we have to go back as far as Rocky Horror, perhaps? Of course, it’s helped immeasurably by its instant earworm of a soundtrack, one that has rippled out beyond the usual stagey crowds.

The elusive secret of the Six formula lies, it seems, in its comparative simplicity, with a smattering of almost Spice Girlsian ‘girl power’ thrown in for good measure. The short, single-act blitz through the six wives of Henry VIII as they set their stories and struggles to pop tributes is light on story, big on character and simple yet effective in staging. It wears its streamlined, focused Fringe origins as a sparkling, rhinestoned badge of honour, and admirably none of the creatives have allowed its success to seduce them into stuffing and padding it out of all recognition.

This is a smart, lean, and whippet-fast jaunt of a show. A funny, charismatic and infectious hybrid of pop concert and musical theatre that laces itself with just enough pathos and even historical insight – not to mention a crowd-pleasing undercurrent of feminine empowerment and positivity throughout – to make those bangers of songs just further icing on an already royally pleasing cake.

“Marlow and Moss demonstrate an uncanny ear for a breadth of genre and style.”

Though to suggest the music is somehow an afterthought would warrant a beheading. Marlow and Moss demonstrate an uncanny ear for a breadth of genre and style, and setting that to witty wordplay and storytelling through song. From the hip-hop stylings of Anna of Cleve’s (Kenedy Small) ‘Get Down’ as she sardonically flaunts her freewheeling royal lifestyle, the power ballad majesty of Jane Seymour’s (Erin Caldwell) wrenching, bittersweet ‘Heart of Stone’ through to the Euro-electric pulsing of ‘Haus of Holbein’, each Queen gets their own signature number, perfectly attuned to the tale they have to tell.

See, for instance, the gradual degradation of Katherine Howard’s (Lou Henry) sultry ‘All You Wanna Do’. Initially starting out as a seductive anthem in the vein of a Britney or Ariana Grande A-side, over the course of the number the spectre of predatory impulses and objectification creep in to the staging, lyrics and performance all, until eventually Howard, shaking and dehumanised, is quite literally being pulled and grasped at from every corner.

It’s just one of many masterclasses Six delivers in doing an awful lot with evidentially little.

Between the solo pieces and peppy ensemble numbers, the sextet engage in zippy banter and jovial oneupmanship, with the meta-narrative of a fictional contest to determine who was worse done by old Henry ratcheting up toward conclusion. Laura Dawn Pyatt’s Anne Boleyn habitually reminds her competitors that, despite their woes, she has this thing all sewn up by dint of, you know, losing her head. Nicole Louise Lewis’ delightfully Black Country (the actress being back on home ground in Wolverhampton) Catherine of Aragon comes out victorious in a game of maternity misery top trumps, whilst Erin Caldwell’s Jane Seymour is quick to remind the other ladies that she was the only one Henry every truly loved and that she was robbed of seeing her only child grow up. Whilst it may all sound frightfully dour and grim, it’s written with such verve and delivered with such mischievous buoyancy, tongues planted firmly in cheeks, that it all proves great fun.

And ultimately, it leaves things to Tamara Morgan’s freethinking survivor, Catherine Parr, to take a step back and appraise all the misery and schadenfreude so that Six can partake in its final, wonderfully welcome about turn.

“It looks, sounds and feels like something akin to a bottled arena spectacle, with some ruffles and threading of Tudor flavouring punched in for good measure.”

Emma Bailey’s staging and Gabriella Slade’s costumes have certainly been leant some extra sparkle and pizazz since the show’s earlier outings, but once again the core essence of their simple yet showy pop concert vibes haven’t been lost. The illusion is merely amplified, and in no small part thanks to Tim Deiling’s dynamic, dramatic lighting. It looks, sounds and feels like something akin to a bottled arena spectacle, with some ruffles and threading of Tudor flavouring punched in for good measure.

The cast assembled for this latest touring are blisteringly good. All six – not to mention their always-on-stage ‘ladies in waiting’ band – keep the energy levels high from the off, and practically never falter. If Six is indeed critic-proof, then the only real assessment of any purpose or merit we can levy at the show is whether the current company do the material justice.

“…particular mention must go to Caldwell’s utterly roof-raising rendition of ‘Stone’ (with an infusion of her beautiful Scottish lilt) which is breathtakingly strong.”

It’s a resounding riff of a ‘yes’ for the class of 2024. They all give equally winning, funny and lovable turns, though particular mention must go to Caldwell’s utterly roof-raising rendition of ‘Stone’ (with an infusion of her beautiful Scottish lilt) which is breathtakingly strong.

But we’re not about to commit the ultimate Six taboo of pitting any of these fierce, fabulous ladies against one another. Not only would it go against the entire vibe and raison d’être of this joyous, affirming ode to individuality and sisterhood both, but it would also be utterly pointless.

After all, I could say this was a theatrical atrocity beyond measure or comprehension, and it would still do precisely nothing to dampen the box office and love for brand Six. And thank Henry…. sorry, thank Catherine, Anne, Jane, Anna, Katherine and Catherine (again) for that, because Six is not only here to stay, not only is it pretty much a perfectly-formed package of poppy musical theatre brilliance, but it’s also fundamentally an empowering, vibrant and utterly original showcase of six stars that, sod it, deserves six stars.

Sorry, not sorry.

The musical phenomenon lives up to the hype, and then some. With no delusions of grandeur or attempts at overreach, this is a lean, perfectly-formed slice of poppy, musical theatre regality, delivered by six absolute queens. Long live the Six.

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