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SIX the Musical

Book and lyrics by Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss, composition by Toby Marlow
Arts Theatre
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SIX the Musical was nominated for a whopping six WhatsOnStage awards. That’s a big number for a small-scale show that first saw light of day as a student production at the 2017 Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

And there's certainly no shame in walking away with just the one trophy—Best Off-West End Production—because once transferred into the West End, the competition includes budget-heavy shows such as Hamilton and Company.

A 75-minute rock concert, there is no story here, but the songs joyfully subvert our King-led understanding of history by pushing Henry VIII into the shadows and putting his wives in the spotlight to tell their version of events.

The show has all the gravitas of the Spice Girls meets Horrible Histories with the lyrics dipping into internal rhyming silliness—"we wanted to elope but the pope said nope"—but the theatre is packed with an overjoyed young audience that started whooping before the first note had been sung.

The premise of the show is banal: the six women compete in a pop princess sing-off to identify which of them had the worst time of it married to H8.

It's a somewhat contradictory approach for a show that wants to make a point about how the importance of women throughout history has been largely written down in favour of their male counterparts—remove the phylarch to reveal a group of squabbling women.

But then this show doesn’t have the feminist credentials of, say, a Caryl Churchill and the writers just about manage to pull it together for the ending, with Katherine Howard, Q5, whose song progresses into unmoderated darker tones, and Catherine Parr, Q6, who ends the Queens' musical race to the bottom.

Credit has to go to orchestrator Tom Curran who, together with musical supervisor Joe Beighton and musical director Katy Richardson, provides a humorous richness to the score.

Visually too this is fun with the six wives clad in sexy, futuristic fashion (costume designer Gabriella Slade) that echoes its Tudor equivalent, as does the strong ensemble choreography by Carrie-Anne Ingrouille, both also nominated in their respective categories.

These dancing queens are also well sung, delivering some great harmonies. It is a uniformly energetic and engaging cast, who deservedly are collectively nominated for Best Actress in a Musical in the Olivier Awards, and good luck to them.

There is a singalong performance of SIX the Musical on 8 June.

Sandra Giorgetti