Review by Daz Gale
Shows that can come along and take the world by storm don’t happen too often, but that’s exactly what SIX has done. Since it’s initial opening in 2017 it has gone on a journey that has included a lengthy reign in the West End over 3 different theatres. Its success goes beyond the United Queendom though with the show well on its way to world domination, following its open-ended record-breaking run on Broadway. I had previously reviewed the show in late 2021 but a year (and a bit) is a long time in the world of theatre, and with a completely new cast on the throne, I was interested to see if this show was as good as I remembered. Therefore, my previous review is now history - and history’s about to be overthrown.
If you have been living under a rock for the last 500 years, Six is based around the multiple women (I forget the exact number) who found themselves married to King Henry VIII. It was a roulette marrying him – you didn’t know if you would end up divorced or beheaded, but six women opted to take that chance anyway. Six flips the story on its head, putting the Queens front and centre, giving them a chance to tell their story, rewrite history and get the adulation they deserve.
On the surface, SIX might seem like a carefree show, reimagining historical figures in a way to get the crowd cheering and having the time of their lives. However, it hides far more substance than that with an overarching theme of female empowerment. Whether it’s only being wanted for one thing, not looking like your profile picture or shockingly giving the King a daughter as opposed to a son, this is a smart and ballsy musical that gives these iconic women the treatment they deserved, while carrying an important message to future generations, as well as a warning to anyone who wants to marry a future King (I wonder if Kate Middleton has seen this?)
The premise of SIX is deceptive. Initially a competition for which of them will come out on top, the true nature of events is revealed later on in fantastically multi-layered writing by Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss, full of clever references from history and bringing it bang up to date with multiple references to Beyonce (because, let’s face it, you can never have enough of them). While the show is predominantly a concert with the spoken dialogue feeling secondary as it segues one song to the next, it cleverly manages to create a hybrid of concert and musical which flows seamlessly. Marlow and Moss are also responsible for the consistently high quality collection of songs present throughout the show, many of which have fast become favourites among musical theatre fans.
The main reason for my return trip to SIX was to check out the new cast, so let’s talk about them. Previous casts have seen some of the fiercest and most talented performers the West End has to offer so this cast had some big shoes to fill. Let me tell you straight away, the shoe fit perfectly (Bad Cinderella could never) and in some respects went on to surpass previous iterations, feeling better than ever as surprising as that was for a return reviewer like myself.
Rhianne-Louise McCaulsky kicked off proceedings as the first of Henry’s Ex-Wives with a fantastic version of the now legendary ‘No Way’. Showcasing remarkable vocals and the kind of charisma and stage presence any performer could only dream of, she truly was a marvel to behold. Baylie Carson brought something different to Anne Boleyn with their portrayal during ‘Don’t Lose Ur Head’ feeling even more comedic than previous versions in a performance that showcased the characters bewilderment and Baylie’s own impressive talents.
‘Heart Of Stone’ is perhaps the biggest moment of the show and a number that has already melted the hearts of fans all over the world, so it is an unenviable ask for any performer to sing that number in a way that does it justice. However, Claudia Kariuki had no trouble, instantly wowing audiences with her phenomenal vocals and emotive performance that ensured anyone present with a stone heart would see it immediately crumble.
Koko Basigara had a versatile approach to Katherine Howard, showing at times a numbness and distant portrayal that made the serious themes of her number ‘All You Wanna Do’ all the more impactful, elevated thanks to her beautiful vocals. Roxanne Couch wowed as the final Queen to tell her tale in a performance of ‘I Don’t Need Your Love’ that well and truly brought the house down.
In a show about female empowerment that ultimately talks about the dangers of pitting women against each other, it feels wrong to compare performers or declare who won the night in this instance. All six performers on that stage were among the best I have seen on any West End stage and a true reminder of the vitality of the arts. However, I would be lying if I said one of the Queens didn’t blow me away even more. To be clear, everyone on that stage is a Five Star talent. However… this person was a Six.
As Anna of Cleves, Dionne Ward-Anderson delivered what I am certain was the single best portrayal of any of the Queens on all my multiple visits to SIX. Taking the elements of what make the character and her key moments successful, she managed to hit all of them while adding countless new bits on top in a performance that was jaw dropping to witness. Her ‘Get Down’ was as perfect as a performance can get, with the slightest facial expression, movement choice or vocal from her elevating the number massively. An undoubted standout, this truly was one of the most sensational single performances I have seen in a long time.
The chemistry the six Queens had together was palpable to witness, with beautiful harmonies displayed whether they were doing backing vocals during solo numbers, or when they got to share the spotlight on group numbers ‘Ex -Wives’, ‘Haus Of Holbein’, ‘SIX’ and of course the iconic ‘MegaSIX’. You got a genuine sense of love between everyone on that stage which helped convey the message of sisterhood and ensured the love spread beyond the stage into every person lucky enough to be in the audience that night.
While SIX has been reigning the West End for years now (apart from that little break in 2020 we don’t talk about), the production value has got bigger and better. What we have now is a far slicker show which consistently impressed. From fantastic choreography by Carrie-Anne Ingrouille, the iconic costumes from Gabriella Slade and the glorious lighting from Tim Deiling, this is a show that always looks, sounds and feels as good as it gets.
When a show plays for a certain amount of years, there is always the danger of it feeling slightly tired and like it might have had its day. That isn’t a problem with SIX, which remarkably manages to feel even more fresh than ever before. While the energy of this show has never dipped, it has to be said that the new cast bring something new and exciting to the proceedings, revitalising the whole affair. Smart, Funny and Powerful, SIX could be the best night in a theatre you are ever likely to have. In a climate where few shows manage to last more than a year or so, it really is no wonder SIX has survived. Long live these Queens!
I’d give it six stars if I could.
SIX continues its reign at the Vaudeville Theatre. Tickets from https://nimaxtheatres.com/shows/six-vaudeville/
Photos by Pamela Raith