Divorced, beheaded and live! Pop musical Six heads back to town
- Credit: Archant
Beyonce meets Boleyn as the hit Tudor takedown becomes the first musical back in the West End this November
Amid the doom and gloom of shuttered theatres, the return of an uplifting anachronistic pop musical about Henry VIII’s wives is a beacon of hope.
Six started as a student project by Cambridge University pals Lucy Moss and Toby Marlow. Tasked by the Musical Theatre Society with writing an original show for the Edinburgh Fringe, they came up with a smart, 80 minute takedown of the patriarchy presenting the wives’ lives as a pop concert.
Each takes turn to tell her story in a battle to see who suffered the most ‘BS’ under Henry and become band leader.
But beneath the Beyonce meets Boleyn razzamataz, Six smuggles in questions about female victimhood, solidarity and why the wives’ place in history is tied to a man.
Picked up by West End producers, it was a roaring success with audiences and set to open on Broadway when Covid brought it to a juddering halt.
Now it returns to the Lyric on Shaftesbury Avenue for six weeks of performances
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“It’s been a funny year,” admits Moss. “It shut down one and a half hours before we were supposed to open on Broadway, then we were bringing it back as a drive in and that got cancelled. We are trying to temper our excitement about being back in the West End because everything seems to change on a daily basis.”
The show is also due to return to the Arts Theatre next year, “if the world ever returns to normal,” says Marlow, but for now the practicalities of the larger space makes social distancing possible.
“It was a fun little project that became quite popular,” he adds, brushing off the notion of a “rags to riches tale.”
“Riches to riches, if you take into account the structural privileges of two white students at Cambridge who were both encouraged all our lives and told we were talented.”
Moss says the summer of 2017, leading up to the #MeToo movement felt like a “cultural zeitgeist of women speaking up and claiming spaces”.
But the inspiration for Six was just as much: “What would we want to see?”
“It was written first to amuse ourselves,” says Marlow. “We both love pop music and wondered why it wasn’t used much in musicals.”
Both his parents are musicians, and Moss trained as a dancer and attended theatre school before studying history.
Six owes a debt to her “particular interest in feminism and revisionist history..
“Instead of just dates and military events, using the stories of those lives we know to talk about the way history is completely commandeered by men and how that affects the way we understand ourselves.
“I felt really strongly about reclaiming these stories, showing the parallels between the experience of women 500 years ago and women’s lives today means these characters are speaking to the audience in 2017.”
Marlow feels “hugely grateful and lucky” that producers are reviving the show.
“Taking an opportunity to employ people and put on live theatre is admirable, but also bittersweet because it’s a miniscule percentage of those who are out of work. Hopefully people can see it’s safe and works financially.”
As for them, lockdown was “both a blessing and a curse”.
“It’s been a creative time for us.” says Marlow. “We have lots of half finished projects and been asked to write for other people, but are also working on our own weird ideas.
“I thought writing a musical would be a fun thing to do but I really wasn’t planning on it being a full time career.. but I’m not complaining.”
Moss adds that as friends for three years before the success of Six, they are like “siblings or a married couple.”
“We are both tragically single, nothing has come between us yet, and sitting in a room together writings songs we think are funny is a very enjoyable thing.”
Six runs at The Lyric from November 14 to January 31. nimaxtheatres.com