Reprise: they’re still at it, as good as ever
If I were a PR for the Society of London Theatres, I would get these six performers together for a photocall with the five from Pride and Prejudice (sort of), and announce them as the female first-eleven of London theatre. Sisters are doing it for themselves, all right. And both shows are a delight.
SIX of course has been around ever since in 2017 a couple of students – Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss – for an Edinburgh fringe joke decided to give voices to the wives of Henry VIII, as if they had in the afterlife formed a Spice-girls style band and were competing for who had the roughest time with old Henry. They will tell you in the programme that it was all about the authors’ “individual journeys discovering the discourse surrounding gender”, and that it’s aim is giving female historical figures a voice and drawing parallels with today, through use of the pop- concert genre.
All valid and pleasingly millennial, though wise to put that stuff in the programme rather than the advertising. Because the actual experience of this “historye-mix” is a gig: a pop-rock-ballad-techno explosion of highly-lit, rackety, jokey, booty-shaking in Tudor-inspired hotpant-and-hi-thigh slutwear and fishnets (hell of a leg show), with the odd dash of neon and a lot of sparkles. It’s brilliant. And goodness, it’s clever: daft rhymes like “tried to elope, but the Pope said nope” and “my loyalty is to the Vatican, try to dump me and you won’t try that again”, and plenty of high-spirited bitching, but also slyly-inserted historical edges about everything from the dissolution of the monasteries to Katherine Parr’s campaign for the education of women.
The music is well-paced: rackety numbers like Boleyn’s followed by the poignant love song of poor Jane Seymour so the audience can breathe a bit. And in this incarnation, its second West End theatre since the post-pandemic revival, the casting is – like everything else – well thought out. They’re all great singers and movers, but gorgeously diverse in physical type and character. Courtney Bowman is a mischievous worst-girl-in-the-school delight as Boleyn, constantly pulling rank because beheading scores higher than divorce or “ordinary death”; Jane Seymour is given a romantic grace by Natalie Paris, and as for the superb Anne of Cleves created by Alexia McIntosh, words fail me. She’s glorious, furious at being dissed after the Haus of Holbein (a great chorus) creates a Tudor Tinder-profile,but gleeful at being pensioned off without a “wheezy wreck 24 years older” to boss her about. She towers over tiny Katherine Howard (Sophie Isaacs), a determined sexpot whose comeuppance is surprisingly moving; and Catherine Parr rounds off the six with dignity before they all decide that women shouldn’t just fight among themselves and in the end they win, because they’re a lot more famous than any other royal wives.
It is, in its return to the West End, yet again an utter triumph. And frankly, after a wasted afternoon watching the film SPENCER, where a lachrymose and hopeless Diana is haunted by a rather less entertaining Ann Boleyn, it redeemed my day entirely..
Box office. Sixthemusical.com. Booking pretty much forever
Rating. Still 5 royal mice.