The Six Queens (in order) outside the Maids Head – photo supplied by Norwich Playhouse
The Theatre Royal under the guidance of Chief Executive Stephen Crocker is working to make better use of the Norwich Playhouse for new and exciting theatre and this week has seen the premiere of a brand new show that blends the story of six famous women into a lively modern musical show.
The six women have generally been overshadowed in historical accounts by the one thing they all had in common – their husband, King Henry VII. This fast paced and engaging show turns that history into herstory, and does a great job. We learn a lot about the characters and backgrounds of each wife as they sing their own stories. The set is reminiscent of a nightclub cabaret stage, all glitter and flashing lights on industrial structures. On stage the all female cast consists of four musicians led by Katy Richardson and the six women who tell the story of the wives from their royal marriages to their varied ends. Basically in the words of the common mnemonic one died, one survived, two divorced and two beheaded.
The six are on stage throughout as a kind of sassy girl supergroup as raunchy and modern as any you will see, with all the moves and styles of the slickest of pop productions. First up is Henry’s longest serving bride – Catherine of Aragorn (Jarneia Richard-Noel) survived 24 years before being divorced in a move that led to the break from the Roman Catholic Church and the formation of the Church of England. Within five days of the annulment Henry had formally married Ann Boleyn (played by a very perky Millie O’Connell) following a dalliance with her sister Mary. The union produced the Elizabeth that would later become one of our better known monarchs, but Anne’s failure to produce a male heir led in fairly short order to her beheading.
Natalie Paris brings us a soulful and spirited Jane Seymour who did produce a male heir, Edward VI, who succeeded Henry but was too sickly to make it beyond his fifteenth year. Seymour herself died just twelve days after the birth of her son. Alexia McIntosh gives us the exotic German princess, Anne of Cleves, wealthy in her own right, who Henry is reputed to have picked from a flattering Holbein portrait of her. Sadly it seems the reality did not match the ‘profile pic’ – he referred to her as the ‘Flanders Mare’ and the marriage was annulled for non-consummation but she survived on friendly terms with Henry, being gifted the former home of the Boleyn family, Hever Castle. She outlived Henry and all his other wives.
Catherine Howard (Aimee Atkinson) was not so lucky, being beheaded just sixteen months after her wedding for an alleged infidelity with Thomas Culpeper. The final wife, Catherine Parr (Maiya Quansaii-Breed) had married twice prior to wedding Henry and did so once more after his death. In the narrow confines of court life in the early sixteenth century it is no surprise that all the wives were related to henry, and each other, and early death particularly after childbirth was commonplace.
On stage musical influences include Beyonce, the Spice Girls, Little Mix and many others with a vibrant score powering this one act drama along. The girl power theme gets the audience going and their message is one of celebration of the lives of these six important women with as little reference as possible to the man who married them all. They turn the male concept of competition into an altogether more womanly theme of collaboration, emphasised with clever dance and movement throughout. The six women are all strong singers and distinctive characters who work together seamlessly. Some of the dance routines were quite dazzling – lookout for when the girls get their ruffs on!
When the six later emerged from their dressing rooms to join the after-party they were all fizzing with excitement, and so they should be, having just created a joyfully lively show that feels like a party itself. The show is heading for Edinburgh and the West End later in the year. This musical is great fun and very topical in that it reminds us that the often unwritten half of history, about women, has some of the best tales and tonight has all the best moves too. A story which we know mostly from unhappy endings is turned into a drama full of life, passion and sisterhood.
Pop on your heels and your crown (surely you have one!) and catch this unique bit of theatre in Norwich Playhouse while you can. The show is booking fast but there is a late night show on Friday which I am sure will be especially lively!
© Julian Swainson 2018
SIX, Norwich Playhouse, Wednesday 11-Sunday 15 July at 7.30pm, Friday 13 July at 10pm, and Saturday 14 and Sunday 15 July at 3pm. Tickets £20-£22.
To book, log on to www.norwichplayhouse.co.uk or 01603 598598.
Read more about Six here: http://norwicheye.co.uk/whats-on/norwich-eye-talks-to-kenny-wax-about-six-at-the-playhouse/ and here: http://norwicheye.co.uk/whats-on/west-end-bound-stage-hit-helps-heralds-new-chapter-in-playhouse-history/