“excelling in some areas but lacking in many others”
Whilst I really enjoyed Six at the Arts Theatre London and there were many good things about it, my honest opinion was that I wasn’t blown away by it. As I have said before in previous reviews on this site, I need a musical to have a good story as well as great music to succeed. And in spite of its great music and outstanding vocals, I found the plot to weak to warrant a higher star-rating.
This is not the first time I’ve critiqued a show in this way; my recent review of Motown the Musical also gained three stars from me for this very reason. Without a good story, I find I lose interest in the songs, no matter how great the score or the performers.
Perhaps I should take this with a pinch of salt, knowing that Six is a musical/pop concert, but as a fairly new genre, I struggled to understand the balance between “musical” or “pop concert”. I have been battling with myself in terms of giving Six a star-review since I saw it because as a musical, I think it lacks a necessary story, but as a pop concert I would rate it higher.
I thought the plot and the acting were both weak and didn’t match the musical talent. My expectations of Six had been so high based on previous reviews and my love for the music before seeing the show, and perhaps this high expectation let me down. I found the ending especially sickly sweet; the message of “let’s stop fighting as we have done for the last hour and suddenly become friends” felt cringey.
However, there are many things I did enjoy about Six. The songs are incredibly catchy, so well written and perfectly performed. I enjoyed each and every number in its own right and could have listened to the Queens all day. The cast I saw were Jarneia Richard-Noel as Catherine of Aragon, Millie O’Connell as Anne Boleyn, Grace Mouat as Jane Seymour (alternate) , Vicki Manser as Anna of Cleves (alternate) , Amie Atkinson as Katherine Howard and Maiya Quansah-Breed as Catherine Parr.
All six were absolutely outstanding, with incredible voices, great character personality and stage presence. Standout performances for me were Amie Atkinson as Katherine Howard and Maiya Quansah-Breed as Catherine Parr. Their vocals absolutely blew me away, though the other four were still incredibly strong.
The atmosphere in the Arts Theatre London was electric during the numbers and the audience engagement was also great fun. I certainly had a smile on my face, a tap in my feet and the songs in my head when leaving the show, which is always a good sign.
I am 100% a supporter of musicals that bring history into the modern age. A huge number of musicals are based on history and, not only do these historical stories make for great shows, they also bring a new way of teaching important history to audiences; whether school children or adults. Hamilton is the classic example of this, making it the closest thing to Six at the moment, but it’s safe to say that Hamilton is in a whole other league to Six, which quite frankly doesn’t begin to compare.
Unfortunately, a huge let down for me in Six was the final number, which completely debunks the point of the show. Through the songs, Six tells the historically accurate (with some modern twists) stories of each of Henry VIII’s six ex-wives. However, in the final song each of the women sings what their lives could have been had they not married the King. Sure, this sounds fun, but some of the scenarios are not only impossible but also historically inaccurate, completely confusing historical timelines.
Anne Boleyn claims she could have been “writing lyrics for Shakesy P” aka Shakespeare. However, Anne Boleyn was born in 1507 and Shakespeare was not born for another 57 years in 1564. Anne Boleyn would have had to live until she was at least 65 to be writing lyrics for Shakespeare which was highly unlikely seeing as the average age for a woman in Tudor times was between the ages of 30 and 40.
I know this seems incredibly nit-picky and in-depth, but if you’re going to make a show to teach history, at least make it accurate. I can get on board with some of the other scenarios such as Catherine of Aragon moving to a nunnery, but the historical inaccuracy of some frustrated me immensely.
This was exaggerated by the fact that a large majority of the audience was young, around the age of 12, who wouldn’t know that the lives of Shakespeare and Anne Boleyn would never have crossed. Sure, there are definitely some lines in Hamilton that weren’t 100% accurate. For example, Hercules Mulligan sings “lock up your daughters and horses”, implying he had intercourse with horses. However, I’m sure audiences can probably assume this wasn’t true, and even if audiences don’t realise this inaccuracy, it doesn’t change important historical facts relating to the story.
What was great about this show and I heavily do praise it for is attracting a young audience. It is crucial that theatres bring in the next generation to the industry to fire their imagination and creativity, as they will be the ones either on stage, backstage or in the auditorium, supporting theatre in a multitude of ways in years to come. I kid you not, the auditorium was packed full of families and young girls with mothers and fathers, which I think is a great achievement.
I love the fact that each of the Queens was inspired by a modern female pop star as it’s a great way to modernise history, as well as giving power to some huge female leads on the West End and celebrating women in a highly empowering show. This British show is doing great things for the arts and society, and I applaud it at its achievements thus far, including winning awards, announcing a UK tour and heading over to Chicago too.
Ultimately, as a musical I would say it needs more story, stronger acting and more historical accuracy. With its amazing music and great achievements for theatre but lack of plot and historical accuracy, Six is excelling in some areas but lacking in many others.
Perhaps I am too critical regarding the need of a story to make a great musical, but that is simply my preference. However, if you are looking for a fun night out in London with your girlfriends, grab a few drinks and head to the Arts Theatre London for Six.