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Home arrow Archive: EdFringe 2013 arrow The Six Wives of Henry VIII
The Six Wives of Henry VIII
Published on Sunday, 18 August 2013

4 stars

Assembly George Square (venue website)
31 Jul, 1-5, 7-12, 14-26 Aug, 4:35pm-5:50pm
Reviewed by Jane Bristow

 Recommended for age 12+ only.

There’s not much in the title that gives away the bawdy nature of this playful look at Tudor history - and probably some of the audience weren’t aware of quite what they’d signed up for. Expect lots of cross-dressing, dirty jokes, funny songs… and even a nod to Kraftwork thrown in for good measure. This play within a play was very funny in places, and worked well as a not-too-accurate frolic back in time.

Spurred on by a crushing review for their take on Richard III, actors Stuart and Harold have an epiphany when they realise Harold has an uncanny resemblance to Henry VIII (he really does). And so, they reason, an easy way to get good reviews must be for them to perform a show based on the story of Henry and his wives. With Stuart gamely taking on the roles of all of the six wives and their many accents, what could possibly go wrong? And will the two of them still be friends by the end of the performance?

The production they come up with begins by briefly showing Henry’s distant father, before introducing us to the first wife, Catherine of Aragon. After fast-forwarding a few years we have Henry singing the blues about not yet having a son, which is the first example of the great lyrics present throughout the show – ‘you didn’t outta / have given me a daughter’ is cheerfully sung at Anne Boleyn. Both Stuart and Harold have unexpectedly good voices. We meet each wife in turn, with lots of jokes about Jane Seymour the actress thrown in, just to make sure none of this is being taken too seriously.

The plot is fairly flimsy, and it worked better when they were dropping pop-culture references into the sixteenth century than when they tried to explore the increasing strain on their friendship. I didn’t really care so much about the attempted emotional turmoil of Stu and Harold – but I did care that they frequently made me laugh. The depiction of Henry VIII fared better, as they tried to make him a bit more human and insecure about never quite living up his dad. It’s also worth saying that you shouldn’t take your maiden aunt to see The Six Wives of Henry VIII as she’ll probably be offended after just the one bedroom scene.

By the end Harold was, as the critic who kicked-started it said, very sweaty – and I was impressed that they actually managed to rush through all six of the wives in the time slot. This is a well-thought-out show, with some clever staging decisions and some high-quality music. Overall it was immature (in a good way), and thoroughly watchable… provided you prefer tongue-in-cheek pop culture jokes to history lessons.

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