musicals review | Read in About 2 minutes
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Published 09 Aug 2017

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.