Review: SIX at Liverpool Playhouse ****1/2
It’s the mnemonic that’s been chanted by generations of schoolchildren – divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived.
But just imagine a school history lesson as entertaining as this Tudor-tastic rollercoaster through the lives of the six consorts of Henry VIII.
The show that started life as a student production at the Edinburgh Fringe has taken the West End by storm, and now it’s storming the UK on tour, bringing its blend of ‘her-story’ and musical attitude to venues like the Liverpool Playhouse where the entire week’s run is solidly sold out.
Think Spice Girls meets Hamilton meets Lucy Worsley dressed in galactic garb and you’re some way to picturing this exhilarating slice of history-as-pop concert.
Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss’s snappy, sassy script pits the six queens against each other in a high-energy, sharp-tongued victim-off, inviting the audience to decide which one got the toughest, roughest deal as described through a series of crisply choreographed song and dance routines.
Was it the dutiful Catherine of Aragon (Lauren Drew), spurned for a series of mistresses and eventually usurped by Harriet Watson’s ambitious selfie-loving Anne Boleyn (“everybody chill, it’s totes God’s will)?
Did Anne get the rough end of the sword? Or was Jane Seymour (Lauren Byrne) hard done by, dying of post-natal complications days after her son’s birth?
The cast of SIX. Photos by Johan Persson
Shekinah McFarlane’s feisty Anna of Cleves might have been rudely dubbed the Flanders Mare, but it seems she was very happy to be put out to graze as queen of her own palace dominion.
Conversely, Katherine Howard (Jennifer Caldwell) got the axe more permanently. But was she really an adulterous flirt, or a victim of abuse and grooming by men in authority?
And is it fair for the educated Catherine Parr (Athena Collins) to be merely a footnote in male dominated history? Because as she points out in the final minutes she, like the rest, has her own tale to tell.
Marlow and Moss’s pumping soundtrack – played on stage by a cracking, all-female four piece – mixes minxy girl group-style numbers with power ballads (Seymour’s Heart of Stone), R ‘n’ B and a bonkers techno Haus of Holbein complete with fluorescent ruffs and sunglasses.
The cast deliver dynamic performances and some impressive vocal harmonies under directors Moss and Jamie Armitage and musical supervisor Joe Beighton, while Gabriella Slade’s cosmic costumes (think Katy Perry/Lady Gaga) are particularly striking.
As a pure piece of theatre, SIX is a joyous 75-minute adrenalin rush.
And as a history lesson? Well, much like Horrible Histories or – for the older among us – 1066 And All That it certainly gives some food, if not necessarily a full Tudor banquet, for thought.