REVIEW: Here come The Spouse Girls in SIX The Musical, Grand Opera House, York ****

Chloe Hart’s Catherine of Aragon, centre, vows No Way in SIX The Musical. Picture: Pamela Raith

HISTORY and hysteria combined, SIX The Musical’s run in York has been met with excitement befitting an A-list pop star. Sold out, every last newly refurbished Grand Opera House seat.

Make that SIX pop divas as this all-female show for the millennial age reactivates the lives of the six wives of Henry VIII in modern mode with attitude: a pop concert wherein the Queens tell their story in song in chronological order to decide who suffered most at Henry’s hands once he put a ring on that wedding finger.

From this talent and talons contest between Henry’s trouble-and-strife sextet will emerge the group’s lead singer. Move over The Spice Girls, here come The Spouse Girls, whose rhyming career path read: Divorced, Beheaded, Died, Divorced, Beheaded, Survived.  

Heading for a beheading: Jennifer Caldwell’s Anne Boleyn

This is not so much history as her-story, as they gleefully point out, in a tale of Tudor girl empowerment, one with no appearance by ‘orrible Henry, but the obligatory girl-group infighting, albeit engineered sassily and sometimes saucily (wait for the Anne Boleyn joke) by co-writers Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss.  

“Musical theatre often has lame parts for women,” Moss once said. “We wanted to write loads of meaty, funny parts for women.”

That’s exactly what they have done, while also “making something which didn’t feel like a musical”, conjuring  a 75-minute, straight-through, breathless show that began life as a Cambridge University student production in 2017. Since then, it has acquired more hi-tech trim in Emma Bailey’s set design for its staging with four ladies-in-waiting, leather and studs: musical director Caitlin Morgan on keys; Migdalia Van Der Hoven on drums, Ashley Young on bass and Laura Browne on guitar.

Stone in love: Casey Al-Shaqsy’s Jane Seymour pouring everything into big ballad Heart Of Stone. Picture: Pamela Raith

They provide the on-trend musical ballast for pop music devotees Marlow and Moss to mirror the tropes of this century’s pop queens: Beyonce for Catherine of Aragon’s No Way; lippy Lily Allen for Anne Boleyn’s Don’t Lose Ur Head; Adele for Jane Seymour’s Heart Of Stone; Rihanna and Nicki Minaj for Anne of Cleves’ Get Down; Ariane Grande for Katherine Howard’s All You Wanna Do and Alicia Keys for I Don’t Need Your Love. The pastiches are uncanny, adding to the fun and games, matched by the subject matter in the lyrics suiting the song style spot on.

You will have your favourites among those songs – for this reviewer, No Way, Get Down or the sudden burst of camp techno and yellow dark glasses for Haus Of Holbein with comedy German accents – but those choices will differ wildly. To these ears, the ballads carried less impact; others would insist Heart Of Stone is the peachiest number of all.

You will have your favourite Queens too, and again arguments can rage as to who and why, but SIX is rooted in team work, in shared empowerment, and so the show opens with an ensemble number Ex-Wives and closes with two more, Six and MegaSix.

Haus music: The Queens go German techno for Haus Of Holbein, the height of camp in SIX. Picture: Pamela Raith

The Wives are omnipresent, singing backing vocals when not each having their moment in the spotlight, drilled by Carrie-Anne Ingrouille in that high-energy brand of choreography beloved of Beyonce and Britney with glittering, flashy, big-on-bling costume designs by Gabriella Slade to match.

As for the performances – not so much regal airs and disgraces as setting the record straight under Lucy Moss and Jamie Armitage’s dandy, defiant direction – they are indeed SIX of the best: Chloe Hart’s unbending Catherine of Aragon; Jennifer Caldwell’s fun-loving Yorkshire-voiced minx Anne Boleyn; Casey Al-Shaqsy’s true-love Jane Seymour; Jessica Niles’s wronged but life-of-luxury Anne of Cleves; Scottish-accented understudy Leesa Tulley’s tried-her-best Katherine Howard and Alana M Robinson’s resilient, broken-hearted survivor Catherine Parr.

Choose a winner? Yours truly is a Boleyn ally. Choose a loser? Alas anyone who was not quick enough off the mark to book a ticket.

SIX The Musical reigns at Grand Opera House, York, until October 16. Performances at 8pm, Wednesday and Thursday; 6pm and 8.30pm, Friday; 5pm and 8pm, Saturday; 3pm, Sunday. ALL SOLD OUT.

Parr empowered: Alana M Robinson’s Catherine Parr makes her statement in SIX. Picture: Pamela Raith


SIX more!

SIX The Musical is to return to the Grand Opera House, York, from June 27 to July 2 2023. Performances will be at 8pm, Tuesday to Thursday; 6pm and 8.30pm, Friday; 4pm and 8pm, Saturday, and 2pm, Sunday.

Tickets are on sale on 0844 871 7615 or

Why does a musical about Henry VIII’s wives have such SIX appeal? Here comes the girl power at Grand Opera House

“I’m incredibly lucky to be a part of this wonderful show, which has such a great message and allows people to be, unapologetically, who they truly are,” says Jennifer Caldwell, who plays queen No. 2, Anne Boleyn

DIVORCED, beheaded, Covid-19’ed, SIX The Musical could have passed this way before, but “localised lockdowns” hit Live Nation Entertainment’s six drive-in shows at Church Fenton airport for six in August 2020.

Now, the newly refurbished Grand Opera House, in York, has the delight of hosting the first North Yorkshire run of the “electrifying musical phenomenon that everyone has lost their head over”, fully booked up from October 11 to 16.

First presented by Cambridge University students in a 100-seat Sweet Venue room at the 2017 Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss’s musical has been catapulted into a West End and international hit en route to being named the Musical of the Decade by WhatsOnStage (as well as Best Musical 2020). Nominations for five Olivier Awards, including Best New Musical, came the show’s way too.

Songs from the SIX studio album are streamed on average 450,000 times per day, making it the second-highest streaming musical theatre recording in the world after Hamilton.

SIX The Musical’s debut York run has sold out already, but why is there all this hoo-ha over the vengeful wives of Henry’s irreverent musical romp?

Welcome to their Queendom where Tudor queens turn into pop princesses as the six wives of Henry VIII take to the mic to tell their tales, remixing 500 years of historical heartbreak into a 75-minute celebration of 21st-century girl power. These queens may have green sleeves (a reference to the Henry VIII-penned Tudor chart topper)  but their lipstick is rebellious red.

“To be able to play the iconic Anne Boleyn and fill the iconic boots of the incredible humans who have played her before is a dream come true,” says Jennifer Caldwell

Among the cast for a third year is Jennifer Caldwell, playing Anne Boleyn, Henry’s second wife, the one who was beheaded by a French swordsman on May 19 1536 after being found guilty of charges of adultery, incest and conspiracy against the king.

“I’m incredibly lucky to be a part of this wonderful show, which has such a great message and allows people to be, unapologetically, who they truly are,” says Jennifer, feeling very definitely luckier than Anne B.

“Having previously covered all the roles and had the opportunity to tell all those women’s amazing stories, to be able to play the iconic Anne Boleyn and fill the iconic boots of the incredible humans who have played her before is a dream come true.”

After covering the role of Anne Boleyn previously, “I had a lot of time to prepare and learn my own little nuances. I also read – a lot! – and watched documentaries to learn as much about our dear Anne Boleyn as I could,” Jennifer says.

She found rehearsing for the latest tour “great fun”. “Being able to go back to the drawing board and discover who my Boleyn is and be able to have ownership over that was really special,” she says. “Getting to bond with the new cast was wonderful too.”

SIX The Musical: Next week’s Grand Opera House run has sold out already

SIX is a very vocally demanding show, 75 minutes straight through and no interval. “I often live a little like a nun!  I steam every morning and drink loads of water,” says Jennifer.

Picking out a favourite moment on the tour so far, she plumps for: “Being able to reopen after Covid. Feeling the love and appreciation from the audience. I cried!”

What should York’s audiences expect from the show, Jennifer? “Stupendous vocals, incredible choreography, laughter by the bucket load and…a whole lotta history,” she says.

“I want audiences to take away the message that we’re all enough on our own! We don’t need to be defined by anything other than who we are!”

Anything else? “I want them to leave with a stomach ache from laughing and aching cheeks from smiling too hard.”

SIX The Musical, directed by Lucy Moss and Jamie Armitage, heads into Grand Opera House, York from October 11 to 16; performances at 8pm, Tuesday to Thursday; 6pm and 8.30pm, Friday; 5pm and 8pm, Saturday; 3pm, Sunday. ALL SOLD OUT.  Don’t lose your head still trying to acquire a ticket.

Copyright of The Press, York