I have been obsessed with Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn ever since a teacher taught me the catchy but ever so slightly reductive “divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived” rhyme in school.
Two fiercely ambitious, intelligent, passionate women who fought for their positions in the face of manipulative men – Catherine and Anne were the Tudor feminists who knew how to rock a gable.
And yet, their stories are still packaged up with fellow former queens Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleeves, Catherine Howard and Catherine Parr – also feminists of the time – as Henry VIII’s six wives.
I’ve read enough Philippa Gregory novels to know these six women deserve so much more than this. (Let’s pretend The Other Boleyn Girl with an Australian Eric Bana playing Henry never happened…)
Watch Six the Musical perform on Britain’s Got Talent
Catherine of Aragon fought for her rightful place on the throne until her death, Anne Boleyn outwitted her enemies to become queen and Catherine Parr campaigned for female education so that they could write.
Where is the justice for these women’s legacies?
Enter: Six the Musical.
Lucy Moss and Toby Marlow debuted the musical at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2017, which gives a modern retelling of “the six wives” through a pop concert-inspired show.
The diverse cast tell their own stories, prooving they are more than “just one word in a stupid rhyme”. The score boasts some of the catchiest songs currently in my iTunes library - think Greensleeves, but with an electronica remix (yeah, literally).
It’s very funny and fast-paced but some serious feminist issues, some of which are still relevant today, are addressed in the lyrics – making this such a must-see performance.
Take Catherine of Aragon’s No Way, for instance. While Henry spends years trying to split with the Catholic church in order to divorce Catherine (long story), she stands her ground and refuses to step aside, shouting: “I put up with your shit, like every single day, but now it’s time to shh, and listen when I say.”
Then, Anne of Cleeves proves she’s the real winner after Henry rejects her for her looks, by reminding him that she is a princess in her own right. “I wanna go hunting, any takers? I’m not fake ‘cause I’ve got acres and acres,” she sings. “Paid for with my own riches. Where my hounds at? Release the bitches.”
And Catherine Howard, who was only 19 when she was executed for “committing adultery” examines how the powerful men who used her for sex ultimately led to her death. “All you wanna do, all you wanna do baby, is squeeze me, don’t care if you don’t please me,” she belts out.
Basically: it’s the best history lesson EVER.
This is why just two years after its Edinburgh debut, the show has now played in America for the first time, via its extended run at the London’s Arts Theatre. The cast also performed the show’s opening song on Britain’s Got Talent this week.
The musical also proved to be a critical success when it was nominated for several Laurence Olivier Awards in January and picked up Best Off-West End Production at the WhatsOnStage Awards.
Boleyn and co are basically making history by rewriting it, and we are losing our heads over it.
Images: Kevin Wilson PR