Even numbers

Six is the production that’s had musical theatre fans becoming experts in 16th century English history. Jennifer Caldwell is playing two of Henry VIII’s wives in the all-woman show

Hero image

Within the space of four years, Six has become a theatrical phenomenon. Conceived as a Cambridge University Arts Society musical with a keen eye on diversity, it’s gone from the Edinburgh Fringe to the West End and touring productions around the world. Its progress was hampered by the pandemic but now it looks set to grow and grow, with a UK tour back on the road.

The titular six are the wives of Henry VIII, but here they’re centre stage and reimagined in the style of contemporary pop stars, taking turns to tell their stories in song and battling it out to come out on top. In 2017, Jennifer Caldwell was an up-and-coming actor working at the box office at London’s Arts Theatre where Six had some of its earliest professional performances.

“I saw it quite a number of times,” Caldwell says. “It’s a show with an all-woman cast and I was like: ‘Oh my god, can you imagine?’ When I got an audition though, I was incredibly excited. It was a nice little full circle moment when I got it.”

Now Caldwell’s unusual job title is Alternate Anne Boleyn/Katherine Howard – that’s to say, she’ll spend one week of the tour playing Boleyn, another playing Howard. “When I got the job, my mum said: ‘Oh well, they’re both beheaded.’ My mum and her best friend are massive Tudor history buffs. They got really excited about me doing Six, but I was quite nervous. I was thinking, what if they come and say: ‘Oh, this isn’t right, that isn’t right?’ They saw it at the Lowry and afterwards I came out really cautiously to see if they’d enjoyed it, but they said: ’It was so smart and so accurate, told in the most wonderfully intelligent way.’”

When she joined the cast, Caldwell was given an information pack on the lives of the people she was about to play.

“I did some extra reading as well. I am an absolute nerd, so I thought I’d just try and learn as much as I possibly could. We delved into it quite a lot in the rehearsal process. Everyone took it upon themselves to tell us about the research that they’d done on their queens. It was like a shared knowledge pool.”

Thanks to Six, there are stories of young musical theatre fans with no previous interest in the subject suddenly becoming experts in 16th century English monarchy.

“I think it’s got people a lot more interested in the history of it,” Caldwell says. “We all learnt a bit about it at school. We all remember ‘divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived’ but I think that’s all you really take away from it. The more you delve into it, the more interesting it becomes.”

Caldwell describes the experience of seeing Six (tagline: Divorced – Beheaded – Live) as “wonderful face-melting singing from powerful women who will kind of subliminally educate you! It’s all about empowerment, about taking charge of yourself, not comparing yourself to other people.

“I think that’s such an important message in today’s society, when we’re surrounded by social media, by all of these images that try and make us compare ourselves to others. The underlying message of this show is just to own who you are.”

Six: The Musical, Leeds Grand Theatre, 29 June-3 July, with subsequent dates in Blackpool, Hull and Salford (sixthemusical.com)

If you liked this article, we think you’ll enjoy these:

Interact: Responses to Even numbers

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published.