Review – Six – Liverpool Playhouse

Review by Nigel Smith

YOU’LL love it, my friend told me – it’s a history lesson told in the style of the X Factor with Little Mix cast as Henry VIII’s six wives. I can’t stand the X Factor and I have never intentionally listened to a Little Mix song. I know, and I’m sorry, but there it is – I was going to hate it.

I have rarely eaten my own words faster, because Six, The Musical, has an infectious energy that spreads through an auditorium faster than certain viruses we could mention, and I was stricken with it in the first couple of minutes.

Yes indeed, the premise is very much as it was sold to me by my friend. The six ex-wives of Henry VIII are united onstage in the form of a girl band and they introduce themselves with an opening number that begins with the familiar rhyme divorced, beheaded… you know. Each of them has an axe to grind that’s as sharp as any executioner’s and they set out to decide which of them got the rawest deal from the monstrous monarch by having a sing-off.

Accompanied by a live backing band onstage, each queen in turn sings a song that tells her own story. An arc of energy builds as the style ranges through pumping dance numbers to ballads, giving the show its strong musical structure. Finally, they decide that they all had a rough time and it’s better that they stick together rather than losing their heads fighting over it, leading to a roof-raising ensemble finale.

I’ve heard it said that if history lessons at school had ever been this much fun we’d all know our history a lot better but seriously, forget the history. The plot was written in the 16th century and we all know enough about it to get what these six women are saying. One interesting point they do make is in a question they raise – how many other king’s wives can we remember the names of? It’s the notoriety of ‘Enery’s appetite for serial matrimony that has etched this sextet into the memory.

The set and costume design are as alive with light and colour as the performances, with flashes of period detail woven seamlessly into the modern designs. The show explodes from the outset with such a wash of energy that it’s impossible not to be swept up by it, and at 75 minutes straight through it manages to maintain its hold to the very end. Especially impressive is the sound balance, which ensures that every syllable of every song is clearly defined, enabling us to savour the wicked humour of the writing.

Here in Liverpool for just a week, Six sold out so fast that it could probably have run here for a month with no spare seats left. It would undeniably have filled the Empire, but the producers know that it really benefits from being in a more intimate space, and it’s to their credit that they put the experience of the audience before sheer commercialism, treating us to seeing it in a theatre where everyone is close enough to the stage to feel a part of it.

Six continues its tour countrywide and if you weren’t lucky enough to get a seat for this sell-out week, you might just catch it in April at Theatre Clwyd in Mold if you hurry. Otherwise, in this part of the country, the next nearest stopping point is the Lowry at Salford Quays, where it plays from 1st December to 10th January. There’s your Christmas present sorted.

Star Rating: 4.5 Stars