Divorced beheaded died, divorced beheaded survived. If you know the old rhyme then you almost know the plot to this refreshingly original new musical, performed by an all-female crew of Cambridge University students.
Almost, because in the hands of writer Lucy Moss and co-writer/composer Toby Marlow, these wives are also popstars, battling it out in song. Forget deep psychological insights or feminist revisionist history – you’d be better off watching Lucy Worsley’s excellent BBC4 documentary series for that. This is an excuse to unleash pitch-perfect pastiches of 21st-century female-fronted pop, right down to the endless key changes and millennial whoops.
Moss and Marlow revel in the ironic contrast between 16th-century courtship and modern day X-Factor narratives of strength and girl power, and the cast have plenty of fun with their gleefully anachronistic lyrics. Anne of Cleves' flattering portrait is the work of the Kraftwerk-tinged 'Haus of Holbein', and she's keen to let us know that Henry's codpiece was equally misleading. But alack-a-day, this treatment doesn't quite work for the wives whose stories are sadder, or duller. Catherine Parr’s anti-love anthem is a weird choice for a woman famous for having had four husbands. And Catherine Howard’s number is just tasteless, turning the sexual abuse she suffered as a 13-year-old into a coquettish number which calls her a “little piece of ass”.
Still, although parts of it could have done with the chop, this is a promisingly ambitious work from a young company who are more than ready to divorce musical theatre from its past.