The performing arts should be especially grateful to Henry VIII: he provided them with a rich source of drama and engineered a cast of characters that most Hollywood scriptwriters can only dream about. A plethora of films, TV shows, documentaries, plays and musicals have drawn inspiration from this most charismatic monarch. But seriously, what else can be done? Where else can we go with our Henry, especially given that recently the emphasis has shifted more to his wives; those long- (and occasionally short-) suffering spouses who said ‘I do’ to the King?
Living Spit comprises Stu Mcloughlin and Howard Coggins, two instantly recognisable TV actors who have appeared in everything from Waking the Dead, Doc Martin and Casualty, to Little Dorrit and Being Human. Off screen they have produced a string of successful two-handers and guided Henry through the Edinburgh Fringe with a well-earned badge of honour.
Our story begins with a brief (true-ish) account of how the show got started. It involves a bad theatre review (wonder what that means?) and a startling realisation that Howard, with the requisite face fuzz, does indeed look like dear old Henry. Alas, with a two man cast it means that Stu has to play all six wives, Prince Edward (no not that one!) and the Archbishop of Canterbury. Not only that, the pair are also required to chip in with original songs on guitar and ukulele. They push the narrative along at a brisk pace with a nice mix of folk, blues, rock and even electro.
A tumultuous period in history is brilliantly condensed; a fitting tribute to effective editing. A 38 year reign, six wives and the Reformation are cleverly summarised in a bite-sized 75 minute performance. Whilst the show is broadly played for laughs, it retains an extraordinary amount of historical detail. There are some good throwaway lines and predictable, though well executed, popular references. The new Archbishop of Canterbury is auditioned X-Factor style and wife number four is selected à la Blind Date.
It is all incredibly well done and I am surprised this is the first time they’ve bought the production to London. This show is great fun and well worth checking out.
Written by: Stu Mcloughlin and Howard Coggins
Directed by: Craig Edwards
Produced by: Living Spit
Box Office: 0207 226 8561
Booking Link: https://www.kingsheadtheatre.com/whats-on/the-six-wives-of-henry-viii
Booking Until: 7 March 2020