|Stu was kept busy working his way through the cast list.|
Here’s the deal: Howard Coggins looks like Henry VIII. There's no escaping it. Stu Mcloughlin doesn't really look like any of the wives, but he's going to give it a go. And from that simple premise, The Six Wives of Henry VIII was born.
Let’s be clear, this fun play doesn’t lay any claim to being historically accurate. Not a jot! But that’s OK. This is like Horrible Histories meets Blackadder, performed by two much-loved Bristolian actors.
Why do I say ‘much-loved’? Well, we’re talking about two of the chaps who’ve starred in all of the most fantastic plays in our city in recent years. Howard was in Treasure Island, while Stu is seemingly never off our stages – in the past 12 months alone, I’ve seen him in Swallows and Amazons as well as The Wild Bride.
And Stu’s experiences with Kneehigh (who produced The Wild Bride) are clear in The Six Wives of Henry VIII – most notably in the regular break-outs into country-blues songs, which are hummed by the delighted audience into the interval.
Throughout the first act, The Six Wives of Henry VIII goes from strength to strength. Our two actors are a delight, especially in the intimate space of the Old Vic’s Basement. They play off each other, they play off the audience and they’re having a hoot. The audience is in stitches and I’m laughing out loud at many points, sniggering at most others.
Howard makes an extremely convincing Henry VIII, and Stu makes a lovely harem of brides… so much so I find myself feeling sorry for poor Anne Boleyn when (spoiler alert) she gets beheaded.
But while act one is a rollocking ride through Tudor history, aided by Britain’s Got Clerical Talent and a range of ill-fitting frocks, the second act is more of a struggle. It begins in a similar vein, and the laughs keep on coming… until about half way through, when a mock fight between Howard and Stu kicks off, which has no comedic value and lasts so long that I wondered if there was real deep rooted resentment between the actors.
But for that, The Six Wives of Henry VIII is hilarious. A genuinely feel-good, hot-water bottle of a play – and one that is worth watching simply for the scene where Henry and Anne of Cleeves perform a Kraftwerk-esque dance routine.
Howard and Stu are a cracking duo, and the combination of their commararderie and Kneehigh singing make this a fantastic few hours. I’d just like to see the ending tweaked for a more seamless flow.