The Six Wives of Henry VIII at the King's Head Theatre
PUBLISHED: 13:04 04 February 2020
Stu McLoughlin of Living Spit Theatre explains how their 'hysterical historical' show sees him play all six of the Tudor monarch's wives while strumming a guitar
Playing all six of Henry VIII's wives is daunting especially for a man who looks nothing like any of them. Stu McLoughlin of Living Spit comes to the King's Head with comedy partner Howard Coggins and their hilarious take on the Tudor monarch and his spouses. Featuring live original music, silly songs, and lashings of 'historical hysteria' they present a "poorly researched show" by two actors desperate to forget the critical mauling of their previous self-funded historical drama. But can they put aside their differences without killing each other we ask?
Q Stu which wife is your favourite and why?
Stu: Ann of Cleves because she was famously ugly, which as a smoulderingly attractive man is a test to my acting skills. She also has some of the rudest lines in the show and while I always enjoy delivering filth with an expression of innocence, there's something extra special about doing so while playing a queen. I also like the rapid switches between queens. We're changing the show to fit the layout of the King's Head and there's a bit where I'm swapping from one regal dress to another while playing a guitar. If I nail that I'll be pretty pleased.
Q Howard, how do you step into the shoes of England's famous king?
Howard: They fit perfectly! We haven't found reliable records about Henry's shoe size but we presume that we were the same size because we do know, from reliable records, that Henry VIII and I are the same height. And the same weight. And have the same features. And a similar build.
Q How did you pick the name Living Spit?
Stu: One day in 2011, my mum insisted on dragging me round Hever Castle. I was trailing glumly through a hall filled with portraits of dead kings when I noticed, to my astonishment, a portrait of Howard in fancy dress on the wall. Looking closer I realised my mistake. I called Howard, with my mum looking disapproving about mobile phones in Hever Castle, and said: "You are the absolute Living Spit of Henry VIII". Howard had just finished a long stint filming telly and was missing theatre and said "we should make a show about that". So we did. We were going to call ourselves Howard and Stu but the theatre insisted on a "proper" name and so Living Spit was born. Eight years and 15 shows later, we're still going strong. Who knew?!
Q How have the Six Wives gone down?
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Howard: We've been doing it for eight years now from Cornwall to the Shetlands and it's always gone down brilliantly. Although we had a wonderful time making it, we had no idea how well it would go. We thought it might have a short shelf life because some of the jokes are very rude. We were afraid that people might squirm in their seats as we turned the air blue…but no. They lapped it up. Which has inspired us, over the years, to make it ruder. We always think we've pushed it too far but to our surprise we haven't gone too far yet.
Q The blurb promises 'live music, embroidery, Barbie dolls, silly songs'?
Stu: We both liked working with directors like Emma Rice and Sally Cookson, who aren't afraid of laying everything right out there. When we made the show, we'd both been in some austere, restrained shows, which we hadn't thought a lot of. We thought this would be a one-off so let's throw every silly joke, visual gag and instrument we play at it and see what happens. To our delight people have loved it and we have been unrestrained in adding more.
Howard: I think I need to point out that the show is, quite genuinely, surprisingly historically accurate.
Q How do you think Londoners will react?
Howard: We're hoping, for both personal and financial reasons that they really enjoy it. I think it'll go down great, It's wowed audiences in a field in Cornwall, reduced stony faced Shetlanders to silly giggles. We're country bumpkins though, from a small seaside town near Bristol, so we're bracing ourselves for Londoners to look at us with pity and disdain.
Q Why the King's Head Theatre?
Stu: We've played theatres of all sizes and the times we've liked best are when the audience know exactly what's going on and we don't try and hide anything from them - it really makes them part of the show. The King's Head's up close and personal vibe is perfect. Also it's kinda one of the first pub theatres and has a great entertainment history, it's an honour to play there.
Q Who would enjoy the show?
Howard: It appeals to pretty much anyone who enjoys silly comedy, cross-dressing, funny songs and witnessing "two top notch performers at the top of their game" and that's from a proper review - we didn't even make that up!
The Six Wives of Henry VIII runs Feb 11 to March 7 at The King's Head in Upper Street Islington and is suitable for ages 12 plus. kingsheadtheatre.com