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SIX the Musical at London’s Vaudeville Theatre review: The historical remix that keeps climbing the charts

"At a snappy 80 minutes with no interval, Six retains the spirit of Edinburgh Fringe immediacy, where shows live or die by audience engagement"

5.0 rating

By Brian Leonard

Janiq Charles as Catherine Parr and the cast of SIX the Musical (Image: Pamela Raith)
Janiq Charles as Catherine Parr and the cast of SIX the Musical (Image: Pamela Raith)

The first time I heard the song ‘Six’ from Six the Musical – which, with joyful directness, platforms the show’s protagonists: the six wives of Henry VIII – I was struck by the wickedly clever and catchy lyrics.

“He got down on one knee, but I said: ‘No way!’; packed my bags and moved into a nu-nu-nunnery!” stutters Catherine of Aragon in the first verse. Girl power indeed!

A sort of verbal advertisement for the show’s central innovation – the combining of old and new to create new meanings – the songs, through modern turns of phrase, breathe new life into historical figures previously resigned to dusty textbooks and sombre portraits. (“Sorry, not sorry!” trills a spiritual sister of Demi Lovato on ‘Don’t Lose Ur Head’.) Then there’s the production. Polished, electronic pop dominates, but listen carefully for those underdiscussed acoustic flickers, which summon the rich, earthy musical character of the Tudor Period. 

I decided I had to see Six and hear these songs live, elevated as they are by a superb live band. However, I had to wait, because – to quote ‘Haus of Holbein’ – the “haus” was always full. This, of course, speaks to the show’s blockbuster popularity. Props to show creators Toby Marlow and Lucy Book, responsible for the music, lyrics and book, who have taken this show from the 2017 Edinburgh Fringe all the way to Broadway in New York City, not to mention, Australia, New Zealand, Toronto and beyond, and finally, back to the West End. There’s just no stopping it. A movie adaptation is all but inevitable. And to think, it remains a snappy 80 minutes with no interval, retaining that spirit of Fringe immediacy where shows live or die by audience engagement, so prone are fickle theatregoers to drift from show to show, as illustrated in recent Netflix hit TV show Baby Reindeer

Kayleigh McKnight as Jane Seymour in SIX the Musical (Image: Pamela Raith Photography)

Admittedly, my first impression when I saw the stage in London was that it was quite small. (The Vaudeville seats 690; to put that into perspective, the Royal Albert Hall seats 3,901.) However, I quickly realised that it is not about the stage; it is about six queens who all have strong voices, sickening costumes and boundless energy. Indeed, what’s truly special about the show is that, from curtain up, you forget about a certain misogynistic monarch and instead focus on these compelling women and their fascinating stories. We all know the famous rhyme about the fate of Henry’s wives: “Divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived”. But there is so much more to these overlooked women. As the queens put it in their signature song, this is a remix of history as we know it. 

I enjoyed every song, but I must give a special mention to ‘Heart of Stone’, Jane Seymour’s lament, which is a moving contrast to the otherwise upbeat vibe, and almost had me in tears. My other favourite was ‘Haus of Holbein, which was hilarious, giving me a belly laugh that would make he-who-shall-not-be-named proud. 

Before the show started, I wondered whether I would find myself choosing a favourite queen. This proved impossible. All six (Nikki Bentley, Thao Therese Nguyen, Kayleigh McKnight, Reca Oakley, Inez Budd and Janiq Charles) were extraordinary, with fierce physicality and faultless vocals. I defy anyone to watch this musical and not come out a feminist. Sing-along, audio described, captioned, and British Sign Language performances are available.

Six the Musical is playing at the Vaudeville Theatre, with tickets available until May 2025