• Michael Randall

Six: The Musical

A couple of months ago, I wrote on this blog about how the Hamilton musical is one of the greatest achievements in the history of humankind, which may have been a tad hyperbolic, but it’s damn good. The thing is, it’s not the only musical featuring historical figures, structured in a unique way. In the same way that you can find suggestions for double features online (i.e. two films with a similar theme which you can watch back to back), I’d like to recommend one which I think is not necessarily as good as Hamilton (it’s a high bar), but which is a very good accompaniment.

Specifically, I am referring to the soundtrack of musical ‘The Six’. The basic premise should not work, but go with me on this. The Six are the ex-wives of King Henry VIII (I can hear Kenneth Norrie’s voice telling me that there were annulments in there). In the show, they debate with each other which of them had the worst experience being married to Henry, which they decide to resolve by hosting a sort of talent show, in which each one takes a turn singing their case to the audience.

I first heard about this a couple of years ago when one of my ex-colleagues went to see it at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and told me to watch it/check it out. However, this was not a mild recommendation – it was a bit like anyone who has just seen Father Ted for the first time, trying to convince someone who hasn’t seen it to give it a go.

Flash forward, I eventually got around to downloading the soundtrack. In the meantime, the show built an increasing reputation/fandom, with a change in theatre/being one of the first shows to re-open post-lockdown and a move to broadway. The soundtrack is only about 9 songs, so is quite short, but it is very clever, and quite a good laugh. Part of the process is that you need to go back and look up/research each of the Six, and then you pick up some more of the references in each of their respective songs.

Last year, around April, I decided to take a trip to London for a few days. In looking up things to do, I bought a couple of tickets to go and see the show, not knowing who would go with me. Eventually, I convinced my ex-flatmate, Natasha to go with me. She knew nothing of the show. Didn’t look it up beforehand. Didn’t check out the soundtrack. And this is where/why our experience diverged.

I knew some of the points which were coming up. I knew to just go with the show, go along with the performers ‘breaking the fourth wall’. So when there was a point which broke into a techno UV rave-esque scene, I found it funny. Natasha on the other hand, came out saying “I’m glad I’ve seen it, but I don’t know what I’ve just watched”.

If you get a chance to see it, it isn’t very long – it’s only one act, and it’s a laugh, apart from the ballad ‘Heart of Stone’ by Jane Seymour. The jokes with the audience between the songs are good (I particularly liked “remember us? From your GCSEs?”). It doesn’t take itself particularly seriously, and prompts you to go and learn more about the lives of women who you only know because of their romantic past.

For me, the funniest/best part is the Anne of Cleves song, ‘Get Down’. Henry annulled his marriage to Anne, but as part of this, had to give her a settlement, which was particularly generous. The gist of the song is a tongue in cheek ‘gosh, isn’t it a shame I ended up with all of this, and I’m free to do what I want’? The Anne Boleyn song ‘Don’t Lose Ur Head’ is genius.

Hamilton is a commitment. It’s fantastic, but to listen to it all the way through takes up a few hours. The Six flies by. It’s difficult to describe. It’s difficult to do it justice without explaining everything that happens in the show. But it’s a laugh, and doesn’t take itself too seriously. And I like that a lot.

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