‘Anne Boleyn’s Tiara Was From Claire’s Accessories’ – How We Made Six: The Musical | Musical comedies
Lucy Moss, co-writer
In 2017, Cambridge University’s Musical Theater Society invited applications for an original show that it could take to the outskirts of Edinburgh. Toby Marlow and I were in third year college 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 center. The representation of women on stage was part of the cultural conversation – later that year, #MeToo happened.
Fringe has so many professional productions that you need a hook for your student show. Shakespeare’s “Real Housewives” and a Wicked-like backstory for the witches in Macbeth were two of Toby’s ideas. But if you’re looking for a famous group of women who aren’t copyrighted, the most obvious are the six wives of Henry VIII. “What if the wives were a pop band giving a concert? Tobie asked. I was like, “Sure! But it looks like it could be so terrible. We’ll have to make sure it’s not. The format was inspired by Beyoncé’s Live at Roseland show.
I was studying history but didn’t remember much of the Tudors except Henry may be writes Greensleeves about Anne Boleyn. Anyway, I had my thesis to write, so I didn’t have much time to read it. My main research was Lucy Worsley’s TV series. I love the way she dresses, 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 during the Easter holidays; the rest we completed during our last mandate. 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 got paid, it was just for fun. Our room in Grassmarket was a former hotel conference center. I put on the first shows, then I returned to Cambridge to direct a play by Shakespeare. I just didn’t think Six would be so important. But it quickly started to sell out and it wasn’t just our friends buying tickets.
After the fringe, we put it in Cambridge. Producer Kenny Wax saw it and said he had a show at the Arts Theater in London which was not playing on Mondays. Would we like to do a showcase with a professional company on those nights? We did it, recorded an album, shot the show, then returned to the arts for an open run.
I had thought that after college I would go back to living with my mother, send e-mails to theater managers asking them to follow them, and slowly try to make my way in the industry. I was accelerated by Six. People contact me now and say they would like to learn from me, but I don’t know what I’m doing!
Six fans are incredibly creative and make fan art of me and Toby with the queens. The public began to come in homemade costumes. Our materials came from Shepherd’s Bush Market, but once fans found out where to find Anne Boleyn’s materials, we had to buy it all to make more costumes ourselves!
Natalie Paris, played Jane Seymour
At school, you learn about the Tudors and the “divorced, beheaded, dead” nursery rhyme, but the focus is on Henry, not the wives. I went to the audition for the arts theater showcase knowing it was a retelling of the story from the wives’ perspective. They said to bring a pop song – I sang If I Ain’t Got You by Alicia Keys. The audition was much friendlier than it usually is. On the first day of rehearsals, Toby and Lucy sang the songs for us. The wives were witty, intelligent, well-rounded women and it was such a relatable, modern scenario. I thought, “Wow, that’s genius. If I came to see this show, I would want to be there.
Each queen was inspired by a different pop star. Catherine of Aragon was a lot Beyoncé, Anne Boleyn had Lily Allen and Kate Nash vibes. Jane Seymour is sort of Adele with a bit of Demi Lovato. My solo, Heart of Stone, is a great song and was a little intimidating at first, but I just felt like it was written for me. During almost four years of singing it, I constantly found new things to discover.
We only had a few weeks to put everything in place for the first show. It was a little stressful but I never laughed so much in rehearsal. The workshop cast also recorded the album. We had no idea it would end up with over 100m of flow! If someone had told me, I would have freaked out.
Most of the look of the show was very different from what it is now. My first costume was a Zara jumpsuit with a corset and we all had sneakers with heels. Later, Gabriella Slade designed amazing shiny and glittery costumes.
When I heard that I was doing a show with only women, I had this fear of having six strong characters in a room. There is a stereotype about it. But on Six, everyone built themselves. When we first took the show on tour, we only had one cover, Grace Mouat, for the six of us – she was our seventh member. I still have a huge bond with the girls. They are like my sisters.