Edinburgh Fringe 2017


Cambridge University Musical Theatre Society

Genre: Musical Theatre

Venue: Sweet Grassmarket


Low Down

Six feisty ex-wives of Henry Tudor set the record straight, 21st century style.


Ex-wives can be such a tiresome bother.  And poor old ‘Enery the Eighth had his hands full dealing with his half dozen in sequence.  Just imagine the mayhem they’d have created if they’d all got together and ganged up on the old lad.  His syphilis would have paled into insignificance.

SiX does just that, though.  Henry Tudor’s six wives form a girl band and set the record straight in this pulsating, vivacious, laugh out loud musical from composer/librettists Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss, using the amusingly contrived strapline of “Divorced, Beheaded, Live”, the first of many such cleverly worded lines in a musical that was simply a joy to listen to from start to finish.

Don’t be fooled by the erudite renaissance background music tinkling away as the audience streams in.  Once the lights come on, it’s full on, with a mix of electro pop, beat, hip hop, rap and up-tempo girl band classics.  But this lot can change the mood and the tempo too, as one or two numbers placed adroitly mid-show demonstrated, giving the audience a bit of time to reflect, as well as slowing things down.

Witty, tightly written lyrics abound but the writers were not afraid to take people on, as a thinly disguised but extended allegory alluding to a former beloved Princess and her seemingly uncaring husband showed.  But for the most part it was pretty light-hearted stuff, although faithful to the events and outcomes that befell Henry’s armada of women.

With a six piece live band to match the six singers, we had music of the highest quality, even if one or two of the sustained top notes from a couple of the singers had the tendency to dive a fraction of a semi-tone flat on a few occasions.  Harmonies were exquisite, soaring, full of energy and on the money.  Singing six part, as these guys did on several occasions, is not easy, especially given they were dancing pretty much the whole time.

With the format taking the form of a solo from each of the wives, we were treated to what was, in effect, a history lesson to music.  Pity this was never on the syllabus when I was studying this for my A levels several eons ago.  Stand outs here included the mercurial Ash Weir as Anne Boleyn – lovely brassy voice, great use of the body to tell her story and an amazing sense of comic timing.  And Shimali de Silva has a voice to die for – clear as crystal at the top of her extensive range, enunciation and pitch were absolutely perfect.

Musical Director and Director Joe Beighton and Jamie Armitage respectively deserve enormous credit for the way they’ve set this superb piece of musical theatre.  Costumes (from Agnes Cameron) were individualistic and universally superb, great design, plenty of colour and variety of cut.  And whoever came up with the choreography deserves a large round of applause too as it was different for each number, appropriate to the mood and the music and faultlessly executed.

Musical theatre is a popular genre in the UK but is one of the hardest things to pull off.  You’ve got to be able to sing, act and dance, normally all at the same time.  The worrying thing is that these guys are doing this part-time – they are all full time degree students at Cambridge University.  Heavens knows what they’d produce if they really put their minds to it.  Professional artists should be queuing up to see just how you can take a seemingly obscure idea for a musical and turn it into such a joyous, uplifting piece of theatre that had the audience on its feet at the close, cheering for encores.

This really is a “must see” show of outstanding quality.  There might be a few tickets left for their show on Saturday so grab one if you can.  And dear old Henry, himself an accomplished composer and musician, is probably laughing away to himself on his celestial cloud at the antics of this sextet of feisty women.