Reviews Bristol Published 26 July 2013

The Six Wives of Henry VIII

Brewery Theatre at the Tobacco Factory ⋄ 22nd - 27th July 2013

Kraftwerk Anne of Cleves

Rosemary Waugh

‘The cardinal lies on his back, a crimson mountain; he flails his hands; he offers his bishopric of Winchester to anyone who can help him get back on his mule…There is much wordplay about bishoprics and bishop’s pricks, which might pass for witty if they were street-sweepers, but he thinks law students should do better. He rises from his place, displeased, and his household have no choice but to stand with him and walk out.’

In Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, Thomas Cromwell has relatively short shift with a bawdy Twelfth Night performance ridiculing Cardinal Wolsey. The sight of an on-stage cardinal ‘offering his harem of forty virgins to anyone who will help him mount…while a flaccid and serpentine member, knitted of red wool, flops out from under his robes’ is indeed probably not to most people’s taste, but I would like to bet that Cromwell – like most potential audiences – would find Living Spit’s The Six Wives of Henry VIII rather more enjoyable.

On topicality alone, it won many points. Just prior to going into the theatre, the first photos of Wills, Kate and the little bundle of happiness that was to become known as Prince George Alexander Louis were released into the world, assuring that the ghost of King Henry VIII was being thoroughly mocked both on stage and off this evening. Some people, like Kate who was probably born wearing nude LK Bennett court shoes, positively exude Good Taste. Even when it ‘didn’t matter anymore’ and the law had been changed to allow for a first born girl to ascend the throne on her own terms – not to mention that the power of the monarchy has, ahem, somewhat disintegrated since Tudor times – the planets are aligned thus that someone like Kate could not help but produce a first born, healthy baby boy. Tradition simply oozes from every orifice of her body.

Contrastingly, one of the fluids that memorably oozed from Henry’s body came from a large cyst on his thigh, which eventually lead to what is always depicted as a rather grimy death. Along with– and god bless my fellow scoliosis-sufferer – Richard III, Henry VIII has always been ripe for ridicule and Living Spit add to this catalogue of belly-prodding with an hilarious semi-musical comedy that darts through the school days rhyme of Divorced, Beheaded, Died; Divorced, Beheaded, Survived.

The performance fits the tiny space of the Brewery theatre well, not because they would be incapable of filling a larger auditorium, but because much of their repertoire takes its lead from televised comedy and so the little stage space becomes like its own version of how people –apparently- used to imagine the goings on inside a TV, with the mini people on screen really existing. The musical interludes are often the most entertaining parts, especially the Kraftwerk Anne of Cleves, inverting what is usually the case with most performances.

The pace of the performance only dragged during the ho-ho meta-level interjection of one of the actors –out of role – threatening to leave the stage. This is perhaps not a true criticism as the reason I wanted them to get on with acting was because they were doing it to such brilliantly funny effect.

And so, if you are feeling a little overwhelmed with pale-blue polka dot orbs this summer and feel betrayed by the so-called Republican Guardian’s round-the-clock coverage of said orb, then I suggest you head to Edinburgh and let Living Spit be your guilty Flight of the Concords pleasure.


Rosemary Waugh

Rosemary is a freelance arts and theatre journalist, who regularly writes for Time Out and The Stage.

The Six Wives of Henry VIII Show Info

Produced by Living Spit

Cast includes Howard Coggins, Stu McLoughlin




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