Six at Sunderland Empire is a royally riotous coronation for one of the best musicals out there

The Six cast
-Credit: (Image: Pamela Raith)

I could simply start and end this review with just one line - if you haven't seen Six yet, you simply MUST. Because, not only is it one of the most clever and immediately impactful shows you'll ever see, it also just so happens to be one of the best musicals out there.

Having started out as the brainchild of two friends who produced it for a debut at the Edinburgh Fringe, Six has, quite deservedly, taken on a life of its own, becoming a huge smash on both sides of the Atlantic. We all think we know the story of Henry VIII from what was told to us by teachers at school, but Six rips up the rule book to show that the six wives of Henry VIII were way more than just his wives - they were fierce, not to be messed with bad ass b**ches.

And each has their own story in a show that doesn't even allow an actor to take on the part of Henry because A. his appearance would offer nothing to proceedings and B. the women most definitely do not need him at all. If the Spice Girls were formed in the Tudor era, they would be the Six cast.

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Thing more Greensleves than Girl Power and more 'good morrow sir' than 'zig-a-zig-ahh', but with all the attitude and energy of the group who took the world by storm in the mid 90s. It would be fair to say that Six definitely takes some subtle and more obvious inspiration from female pop acts. There's direct tributes to lines from both Destiny's Child hits Survivor and Independent Women and other nuances to others throughout.

Far from being a newcomer to Six mania, this was my fourth time seeing it but I will say that this was overall, the strongest cast I'd seen so far. There was not one single weak link in an 80 minutes performance that was like a masterclass in modern musicals, despite its much older foundations.

Done in a live concert style format, Six allows each of the wives to tell their story their way and, first out of the gate Ellie Jane Grant was absolutely top tier. A shunned queen with scores to be settled and an axe grind, Ellie made No Way, which is most definitely one of the Six score's trump cards, an anthemic romp, with so much more and panache.

Haus of Holbein
Haus of Holbein

Taking her lead from Ellie, Laura Dawn Pyatt made sure there was no way she could ever be 'the other Boleyn girl' with a brilliantly bitter and Kate Nash/Lily Allen esque Don't Lose Your Head. Now, in this reporter, you have someone who requires every great musical to have a great ballad and the good news is that, in the shape of Heart of Stone, Six has one that ticks all the boxes.

It has anguish, it has heartache, it has pain, all of which are conveyed fantastically by Tamara Morgan. Give that girl her flowers for that epic final belt alone! Insanely good.

From the sublime to the sublimely ridiculous. I turned to my friend to see she was having a bit of a WTF when Haus of Holbein kicked in and that is the response that song that marks the mid point of the show should always provoke,, as the 90s Euro dance and klaxon infused few minutes of madness are like nothing else you'll probably ever witness in a stage musical.

Moving onto wife number four Ann of Cleeves. And, while she may have not been Henry's queen for too long, but, have no doubt that in the role, Kenedy Small is hear to snatch ALL the crowns. Evidently a born entertainer, Kennedy had the Sunderland Empire audience easting out of the palm of her hand as she had her coronation as the royal highness of hip hop with Get Down.

Now enter Natalie Pilkington as Katherine Howard. On the face of it, her song All You Wanna Do is a bit of throwaway pop but its lyrics delve into the troubled life and relationships Katherine had with the males in her life, before ultimately paying the price with her head falling off the block. As Katherine, Lou gives both polished pop princess and Queen Bee vibes.

Finally, as the only wife who outlived Henry, Catherine Parr, Aoife Haakenson was passionate but in an understated, effortlessly cool manner, bringing things to a classy conclusion, before all six women joined forces and threatened to lift the roof off the Empire with the title track.

All it takes is one listen to Six for it to immediately worm its way into your head and affections and, if there was a record for the quickest standing ovation awarded at Sunderland Empire in recent times, the one given at lightning speed on Tuesday night has to be a serious contender.

The packed crowd, which included some people who'd bought standing tickets, such was the demand, quite rightly awarded the Six cast with emphatic reception.

A very easy five stars for Six immensely talented queens. I bow down.