If there’s one thing I remember about history lessons at school, it’s the rhyme ‘divorced, beheaded, died. Divorced, beheaded, survived!’ It was drilled into my mind in the same way teachers insist pupils need to know the national anthem. But if I’m being honest, this was only the beginning of a decade long obsession with the Tudors, and my insistence that Anne Boleyn was a proto feminist, murdered for being ahead of her time.
I’ve never thought much about the other wives, other than sorrow for their being victims of an aggressive dictator. Cut to the opening night of SIX at the sparklingly new Swansea Arena, where the musical is performed in an innovative and acoustically excellent, auditorium until the 22nd of October. It’s this performance of SIX that leaves me a supporter of each of the six wives!
The arena’s online tagline, ‘Divorced. Beheaded. LIVE’ changes the Tudor storyline completely. I mean seriously, there’s edgy jewel-lined costumes that upend Tudor attire, belting solos with an R&B meets Lady Gaga vibe, light shows that any millennial would recognise as club-worthy, and more importantly, a reworking of the six wives lives in a way that leaves them very much alive in our minds. History fans, music lovers, and those who just love a good time will find themselves swept away by this show. But, if you don’t believe me, check out the SIX trailer below!
But first, let me give you an overview of this international hit, multi award-winning musical. SIX is the brainchild of Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss, who wrote the musical during their final year at university.
And before you think it, I know that’s an insanely impressive thing to do! But the musical doesn’t suffer from their young age, if anything it’s their youthful perspective on a history predominantly remembered from a male perspective that makes this such a mind-blowing experience. It’s the first show where I’ve seen parallels between the female experience today and 500 years ago, while simultaneously championing the power of women supporting women without losing their own individual identity!
As I’ve already said, the musical is a retelling of King Henry VIII’s six wives in 80 minutes with no interval. The stars of the show are Catherine of Aragon (CHLÖE HART), Anne Boleyn (JENNIFER CALDWELL), Jane Seymour (CASEY AL-SHAQSY), Anne of Cleves (JESSICA NILES), Katherine Howard (REBECCA WICKES) and Catherine Parr (ALANA M ROBINSON).
Also on stage, is an all-female band, otherwise known as ‘Ladies in Waiting’, and right off the bat an instrumental and lullaby-like rendition of Greensleeves ushers the audience into a pseudo-Tudor court, before quickly being replaced by flashing spotlights, thumping beats and six Pop Princesses. The minimalistic stage, designed by EMMA BAILEY, instantly transforms the court into a modern gig, and from this moment, I know I’m going to have a history lesson unlike any you’d find in a textbook.
Techno beats and lively choreography carry lyrics that introduce each of the Queen’s backstory and mistreatment from Henry. As soon as they shout, “Hello Swansea” and “Swansea make some noise”, the already dancing and cheering audience – myself included – are ready to join in. For the first three quarters of the show, we’re going along with their cat-fighting contest to crown one of them with the title of “the most badly mistreated wife”. It’s a strange victory to go after with many twists and turns along the way, but don’t lose your head, I won’t spoil the show.
However, what I will say is there’s music throughout and straight away you’ll notice that this is a musical mimicking a concert. During the final number, the dark auditorium is lit up with people using their mobile phones as torches or video recorders, much like concert goers do. Each of the Queen’s vocal ranges are likewise worthy of any Tony or Olivier Award, and the comedic lines or lyrics that have us all cheering at the top of our lungs, give way to surprisingly heart-breaking solos.
I never thought in a million years, I’d feel pity for Jane Seymour – who died of natural causes, as the show’s Anne Boleyn keeps bitterly telling us. But as Jane sings, “without my son your love could disappear,” I get goosebumps across my skin and the auditorium goes deadly silent.
You’d hear a pin drop, for sure, and it’s like that for each of the songs, where recognisable activities like swipe right for a date, unwanted male attentions, and profile pictures not matching a real face, make the history of Henry’s six wives accessible to even the youngest audience members. I’ll never forget the moment when Anne of Cleves says Henry didn’t like her Profile Picture, which unsurprisingly got a ripple of laughter from the whole audience. But you must go to see the show/concert to find out how her story ends!
The singing is only surpassed in brilliance by the outstanding concert-style lighting which somehow manages to add tear-jerking emotion or joyful bewilderment to each scene. The lighting was designed by TIM DEILING, while the costumes were designed by GABRIELLA SLADE and are another highlight of the show. They’re glitzy and glamorous, with a touch of rock and roll, all of which add to the six wives’ attempt to overthrow history and show that they’ll no longer be lost in Henry’s history.
It’s a sexy yet sensitive celebration of sisterhood, one that wittily puts Henry VIII in his place while championing the individuality of every woman on and off stage. It’s easy for me to say that SIX and Swansea Arena have put Swansea back on the map!
It’s at Swansea Arena through till Saturday 22nd October For more details and ticket information, go here. SIX
For performances starting at 8:30pm on Wednesday 19th October and Friday 21st October, they advise you arrive no later than 60mins before the show begins.