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Theatre Review: Six ****

Scott Purvis reviews an impressive history lesson made for the age of Hamilton.

Hey, nonny nonny! After nearly five hundred years in the hulking shadow of Henry VIII, the not-so-merry wives of Windsor have sharpened their sceptres and are ready to overthrow the bloody image of themselves as simply divorced, beheaded and dead. Staging a pop concert that would make Little Mix’s pyrotechnics team pop, this lively, visually delightful hour-long show of original songs tells the story of each woman, reflecting on their tragedies and triumphs. This is musical theatre for the Hamiltongeneration, intelligent in its lyrics and dazzling in its staging.

Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss have sculpted a compact piece of relevant theatre which explodes onto the stage the moment the lights rise. Performing songs such as “Don’t Lose Ur Head” unt de “Haus of Holbein” by an outstanding group of singers, the entire thing feels like Horrible Historiescross-referencing the Spice Girls and Tinder. Loud and proud, it sounds like an X-Factor final (or should that be “Ex-Wives Factor”). The book could make you laugh your head off in moments and breathe sharply in others, a post-feminist exploration of modern relationships filtered through half a century of male oppression.

The power behind the throne is undoubtedly in its cast of queens. Like a Shakespeare folio, each new page of the script plays with a new genre of music, from Beyoncé to Adele, Girls Aloud to Alicia Keys. Natalie Paris’ diamond-cut performance of “Heart of Stone”, Catherine Parr’s tragic ballad, lit the air with fine fairy lights whilst Alexia McIntosh’s hilarious “Get Down” got the crowd drunk on crunk. Millie O’Connell’s bouncy, Lily Allen inspired “Don’t Lose Ur Head”, too, found rhymes tighter than a courtesan’s corset and Jarneia Richard-Noel was full of fire as Catherine of Aragon. The cast is a marriage of talent and teamwork.

Whilst the piece is impressive in its wit, there are moments when the lyrical content is, shall we say, a little ruff. Aimie Atkinson’s pitch-perfect turn as Katherine Howard could sing and dance Britney out of Vegas. Nonetheless, “All You Wanna Do”, her big solo number, strums an awkward note on the lute of a modern audience given its comic, smutty treatment of a sexual relationship between a thirteen year old girl and her much older music teacher. This seems an odd oversight for a show that preaches female empowerment to a young audience, however historically inaccurate that empowerment might be. The piece’s unwillingness to confront the sharp clashes between the values of the past and the values of the present may be the sole thorn on this beautiful Tudor rose.

Tony Marlow and Lucy Moss’ cabaret of crowns is an energetic, entertaining and exhilarating flick through the pages of Renaissance history. It swings like the axeman’s blade, shines like the Crown jewels and is more fun than a pint of mead on a Friday night. With another forty minutes of content, this could run like the Spanish Armada from Elizabeth’s fleet.

At the SEC in Glasgow until December 30th.

Tags: music theatre

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