Tweetingit: 5***** Henry VIII meets hip hop in a royal mashup. Ladies in the house kick some serious Tudor ass. Time to party like its 1499!
In the true spirit of revisionism I’ve often wondered why Henry VIII had so many wives; the need for a male heir to secure the throne; political alliances with other European states; independence of the church in England. No, Henry just wanted to throw a really good party!…and a musical featuring his six wives is the perfect vehicle. History viewed at this distance naturally lends itself to irreverence, and to attack the subject in a Hamilton hip-hop style pays off handsomely in this brilliantly inventive production. Six queens take the stage, backed by an all-girl band grandly announced as their ladies in waiting. This is a history lesson with a difference as they compete through song, dance and chat. Who had the saddest life; who suffered most at the hands of big, bad Henry?
Just so we’re on the same page the queens kick off with ex-wives, a reminder of the rhyme that drove us all mad at school: divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived. Oh, it’s coming back to me now; that draughty classroom listening to a tweed jacket with leather elbows. But our queens’ attire is totally different as they each state their case. First up was Catherine of Aragon (Jarniea Richard-Noel), who laid down some heavy rhymes in the super funky No way. No sibling envy here as she was married to elder brother Arthur then moved onto Henry for another 24 years.
Next on the mic was the scheming, manipulative Anne Boleyn (Millie O’Connell); Catherine of Aragon’s lady-in-waiting who delivered the wickedly funny don’t lose UR head. But the queens’ raucous dissent was put on ice as the wholesome Jane Seymour (Natalie Paris) told her tale. The only wife who Henry truly loved; she gave him a son but died giving birth. Oh too emotional, time for Anne of Cleves (Alexia McIntosh) to raise the funk level with the Haus of Holbein and Get down. We all know what an absolute rotter Hans Holbein was; I mean deceiving poor old Henry with his fake portrait of Anne? But I wouldn’t shed too many tears for Anne; she got Richmond Palace and Hever Castle in the divorce settlement. Wife number 5 was Catherine Howard (Aimie Atkinson); a teenage temptress 32 years younger than Henry, but tragically got the same haircut as Anne Boleyn. Our final queen was Catherine Parr (Maiya Quansah-Breed), who introduced some perspective on the one man they all had in common.
Six is a massive breath of fresh air, joyfully breaking free of the traditional musical format. The queens were individually and collectively brilliant with not a step or note out of place. The songs were bright an engaging with potential standalone qualities. I don’t need your love, beautifully sung by Catherine Parr is better than anything Beyoncé has done recently; while Megasix feels like a great club remix in the making. The real masterstroke here is fusing the Blackadder approach to history with contemporary songwriting styles. Welcome to a new genre because hip-hop history is the new rock and roll.
Written By: Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss
Directors: Lucy Moss and Jamie Armitage
Musical Director: Katy Richardson
Choreographer: Carrie-Anne Ingrouille
Producers: Kenny Wax, Global Musicals and George Stiles
Box Office: 020 7836 8463
Booking Link: https://artstheatrewestend.co.uk/whats-on/six/
Booking Until: 14 October 2018 (Arts Theatre); then touring nationwide until December 2018