By Madeleine Brown
4 stars – “Royally good”
The increasingly-popular musical SIX made a royal return to Edinburgh – where it premiered as a student production at the 2017 Fringe Festival – to kick off its 2022/23 UK tour at the Festival Theatre. The musical turns the six wives/queens of Henry VIII into members of a girl band, who use original songs (several of which have trended on TikTok) to share their stories in a contest to determine which queen had the most traumatic life and will, thus, become lead singer. A weird and slightly morbid concept, but trust me – it’s better than it sounds.
If you were a fan of CBBC’s Horrible Histories, SIX is the musical for you. Just as the TV show’s songs parody contemporary music, each queen in the musical is inspired by a modern female pop singer in both look and sound. While theatre purists have criticised SIX‘s score, written by Marlow and Moss, the modern-sounding music really hammers home the parallels between the misogynistic treatment of the queens and the abuse women face today. This is particularly clear in “All You Wanna Do” – sung by Katherine Howard, detailing the manipulation, objectification, and abuse she faced, which led to her arrest and execution for “promiscuity” – which is inspired by Britney Spears, a woman whose life and career has been marred by male manipulation and control.
On a lighter note, the music is really catchy, and it gives the actors a chance to show off their incredible vocals. I’d like to specifically praise Chlöe Hart as Catherine of Aragon, whose vocal runs in the Beyoncé-inspired song “No Way” were so clean that you could probably safely eat off them, but her fellow performers are just as vocally talented. Some of my favourite moments in the show were when the queens came together to harmonise; the blend of their voices was exceptional.
The acting throughout the show was also great. There’s a lot required of the actors – multiple split-second switches between pathos and comedy – but they handled it all gracefully and, I think, did the real six queens justice. That’s the real ethos of the show; it’s funny and entertaining, but it treats the women behind the story with the respect and compassion they deserve.
Unfortunately, there were other areas that didn’t go so well. With only six actors onstage, mistakes are more noticeable, and there were some obvious errors in the opening number’s choreography. That being said, this production has only been running with the current cast for 10 days, and the rest of the show was performed extremely well. Some of the dialogue was a bit predictable, too, but the performances were so fun that I didn’t really mind.Overall, SIX’s catchy pop score, strong performances, relevant themes, and 80-minute runtime make it the perfect show to see on a night out. While its time in Edinburgh is ending, the touring production will play Glasgow’s Theatre Royal from 14th-19th June – if you can, “Get Down” (in the words of Anna of Cleves) and see it!