The Six Wives of Henry VIII (Bristol)
This two-hander starring Stu McLoughlin and Howard Coggins returns to Bristol with a run at the Tobacco Factory ahead of a national tour
The show opens with the actors reading a damning one star review of their previous historical production, then cursing the critic who wrote it and ripping up the newspaper. So no pressure on this critic, then.
This two hander is, fortunately, an enjoyable romp through half-remembered and half-researched royal history (more Wikipedia than David Starkey as they confess). The idea for the piece came up when one half of the duo, Stu McLoughlin, noticed an uncanny resemblance between a portrait of Henry the Eighth and his fellow actor Howard Coggins – who of course plays the King from his ascension to the throne through to his abject final years of obesity and foul smelling ulcerations.
The mercurial McLoughlin plays all the other parts – the wives, Henry the Seventh, Edward the Sixth, Cindy from Dublin (a would-be bride for Henry). Their mangling of history is irreverently witty, with each character given an incisive comic stamp.
Memorable moments include a Blind Date contest to pick a new bride, with Anne of Cleeves being possibly slightly stereotyped as a humourless scary German (all done with tongue well in cheek). The ensuing Kraftwerk song and dance routine is the stand out musical number. Elsewhere, McLoughlin and Coggins' startlingly beautiful singing and harmonies are powerful.
The play is at its best when trampling freely over historical facts. There is a poignant change of mood when the hapless Anne Boleyn realises her fate, which broadens the emotional range of the piece. The material about the duo's offstage relationship treads the more familiar ground of the dependency and resentment that eats at the heart of many comedy double acts. It does seem an odd omission that there are no references to a very recent new arrival at Kensington Palace – they could have given the new kid on the Mall his comedy baptism.
All in all this is a fine evening of fun that should be seen, not for its very dubious educational value, nor for its reminders about the darkness behind the royal lineage, but as a display of a top-notch comedy act on cracking form.
- Tony Clancy