(Chris Wiegand’s article appeared in the Guardian, 3/7; via Pam Green; Photo: ‘The format was inspired by Beyoncé’s Live at Roseland show’ … Six at the Arts theatre. Photograph: Idil Sukan/Draw.)
What if Henry VIII’s wives were a pop group? The makers of the smash hit recall how Catherine of Aragon was very much Beyoncé, Anne Boleyn had Lily Allen vibes – while Jane Seymour was a sort of Adele
Lucy Moss, co-writer
In 2017, Cambridge University’s musical theatre society invited applications for an original show that it could take to the Edinburgh fringe. Toby Marlow and I were third years at the university, and had talked about doing a musical together for ages, so he applied, saying he would write a show with pop music and lots of women at its centre. Representation of women on stage was in the cultural conversation – later that year #MeToo happened.
The fringe has so many professional productions, you need a hook for your student show. The “real housewives of Shakespeare” and a Wicked-type backstory for the witches in Macbeth were two of Toby’s ideas. But if you’re looking for a famous group of women who are out of copyright, the most obvious are the six wives of Henry VIII. “What if the wives were a pop group giving a concert?” asked Toby. I was like: “Sure! But that sounds like it could be so terrible. We’ll have to make sure it isn’t.” The format was inspired by Beyoncé’s Live at Roseland show.
My main research was Lucy Worsley’s TV series – I love the way she gets dressed up
I was studying history but couldn’t remember much about the Tudors, beyond Henry possibly writing Greensleeves about Anne Boleyn. Anyway I had my dissertation to write so didn’t have much time for reading. My main research was Lucy Worsley’s TV series. I love the way she gets dressed up, pretending to be a lady in waiting and looking over her shoulder at the camera. It’s so ridiculous!
We wrote half the show over four days in the Easter holiday; the rest we finished in our final term. We took a student production of Six to Edinburgh that summer. The costumes were very low budget – Anne Boleyn had a tiara from Claire’s Accessories. No one was paid, it was just for fun. Our venue in Grassmarket was a converted hotel conference centre. I set up the first couple of shows then went back to Cambridge to direct a Shakespeare play. I just didn’t think Six would be so important. But it quickly started selling out and it wasn’t just our friends buying tickets.
After the fringe we put it on in Cambridge. The producer Kenny Wax saw it and said he had a show at the Arts theatre in London that wasn’t playing on Mondays. Would we like to do a showcase with a professional company on those nights? We did that, recorded an album, toured the show, then went back to the Arts for an open-ended run.
I’d thought that after uni I’d move back in with my mum, send emails to theatre directors asking to shadow them and slowly try to work my way into the industry. I was fast-tracked by Six. People get in touch now and say they’d love to learn from me but I don’t know what I’m doing!