Twelve months can be a long time, especially if you are married to Henry VIII – a couple of his wives did not last much longer in the role, while one was dropped after a few weeks. For the young creators of a hit musical about these six English queens, the year since it opened at the Edinburgh festival – and they gave the Observer their first interview – has changed everything.
Six, by the Cambridge graduates and friends Lucy Moss and Toby Marlow, has been selling out in America after its hugely successful debut in London, straight from the Edinburgh fringe. Now Broadway beckons, to say nothing of the productions opening in Australia, Korea, China, back in Britain and on two cruise ships.
“I did keep pinching myself, but I had to stop,” said Marlow, 24. “It has been such a whirlwind. I went on my first holiday for two years last week to reflect on everything.”
The show, which takes the form of a singing contest between the six royal women, was nominated in five categories at last year’s Olivier awards and has done just as well in Chicago. Featuring songs including Ex Wives, Haus Of Holbein and Don’t Lose Ur Head, the musical has been praised for its score. While the Telegraph critic noted the debt it may owe to Hamilton in its unorthodox approach to history, he added that “it has its own manifest cheeky British personality”.
Now Marlow and Moss are talked of as potential successors to Lloyd Webber and Rice, but say they are determined to stay “grounded”.
“Even though it had been such a hit in London, when we came out to America, Lucy and I were freaking out, wondering if the history is going to appeal in the same way,” said Marlow. “But they knew all the words already from the internet, which was extraordinary. They are much more vocal than Brits, and some have come from right across America to see it.”
Moss, 25, agrees that her sudden success in the risky world of showbusiness has been a shock. “My mother is particularly surprised, because my brother is now an international poker player. She is a tax manager, such a safe job, and keeps asking what the hell her children are doing.”
Fans also present a challenge for Moss. “I find it hard to deal with them. Although they are lovely, I am so awkward about it. It has been so overwhelming.”
Producers Andy and Wendy Barnes joined Kenny Wax, the producer behind international hit The Play That Goes Wrong, to back the show after each spotted something in Six. Speaking to the Observer last summer, Andy Barnes said the show was unusual for attracting finance at such an early stage.
“But investors like me have to be in it for the long game, because by the end of the festival we will have spent a lot of money on Six and only got a little back at this stage.” He made the right decision.
Moss is now planning to buy her own place in London. “At the moment I am staying in the living room of a three-room flat in Bethnal Green. I do think maybe I need a door and a proper room now, but I am quite attached to east London.”
Moss is pleased that the unconventional side of the show has made it many friends. “It is not subversive exactly, but it is feminist and its form is a bit of an experiment for a musical,” she said. “And I suppose the more serious message in there makes it a bit of a Trojan horse for a show that seems so fun and poppy. The audience do not expect the moments of darkness that come.”
Moss and Marlow are now off to Kent to work in seclusion on a total of three new musical theatre projects, as well as some pop songs.
“We are trying to avoid that difficult second album thing by doing them all at once,” said Moss.