Michael Sheen (Nye Bevan) and Ross Foley at 'Nye' Rehearsal. Image courtesy of Johan Persson / Royal National Theatre

Two shows — one in the West End and another at the Royal National Theatre — earn thumbs up from some Medill undergraduates who recently traveled to London for a JOURneys class and thumbs down (or out) from others. Would time and money be better spent on a British high tea or vintage outfit?

Editor’s Note: These student reviews have been edited and condensed for clarity.  

Pick Six

Six is hardly a musical. It’s an 80-minute concert celebrating independence, agency and feminism made possible through clever lyrics like “histo-remix” and dynamic stage presence. Featuring each of King Henry VIII’s six wives — Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Anna of Cleves, Katherine Howard and Catherine Parr — the show rewrites the convention that these women are only historically relevant because of the monarch’s frequent trips to the altar. Through knock-out group numbers and solo ballads (one each), the wives learn that they can’t be confined to a mere category.

While all six actors for the wives were outstanding, Nikki Bentley (Aragon) and Kayleigh McKnight (Seymour) were particularly strong vocally, lighting up the Vaudeville Theatre with their captivating storytelling during “No Way” and “Heart of Stone,” respectively. They brought an infectious energy and sense of life to this 500-year-old tale, making it impossible to not smile. Seeing the wives grow into a confident and compelling band of queens live was an unforgettable experience. They don’t need Henry’s, or even the audience’s, love.  – David Samson

The six wives of Henry VIII share their “her”-stories with theatergoers at the Vaudeville Theatre in London’s West End. Photo by David Samson.

This 80-minute royal rendezvous with Lucy Moss and Toby Marlow's Six the Musical at the Vaudeville Theatre is a head-turning, show-stopping way to uncover the tales of Henry VIII’s six wives. In the concert-like production, Nikki Bentley's regal performance as (divorced) Catherine of Aragon marks the start of a queen-sized showdown. This regal rivalry, arguably insensitive in pitting these monarchs against one another, is thankfully addressed by the final curtain call. The show gives a 21st-century makeover to 16th-century (beheaded) Anne Boleyn, weaving in more ‘LOL’s and ‘#SorryNotSorry’s than you would expect from her tragic tale. Jane Seymour (died), on the other hand, hits a more serene note. In a powerful, soothing ballad, she expresses the most genuine love for Henry VIII of all the queens. Six reels in a sea of emotion between the German catfish caper of (divorced) Anna of Cleves and (beheaded) Katherine Howard's head-losing ordeal. “I Don’t Need Your Love,” by the final queen, Catherine Parr (survived) is a lively finale – an overall royal delight. – Fatima Jalloh

You hear the brassy timbre of their voices before you see them. Then, ablaze in purple lights, on a glittering stage, six women step into the fore of the Vaudeville Theatre in the West End, and the audience is already applauding and whistling. With all the shouting throughout the show, Six feels more akin to Lollapalooza than a musical in London’s historic theater district, if said concert’s target audience were high school-aged children and history enthusiasts instead of party-hungry 20-somethings. During one of many risqué moments, Anna of Cleves (Reca Oakley) whips off her modern version of a Tudor-style costume to reveal a much scanter set of bright red undergarments – a 21st-century reimagining of what body positivity could have meant for 16th-century women. In 80 minutes, powerhouses Nikki Bentley, alternate Naomi Alade, Kayleigh McKnight, Natalie Pilkington, Janiq Charles and Oakley deliver impressive vocal theatrics with a satirical cadence that feels reminiscent of Hamilton’s spunk and intellect. In the end, the story of these six women forces us to beg the question – what else is our patriarchal understanding of history getting wrong? – Atarah Israel

It’s ironic that Six fails the Bechdel Test – a measure of representation in media that requires two nonmale characters to talk about anything other than a man. The weakly feminist musical aims to rewrite the history of Henry VIII’s six wives from their perspective, yet, funnily enough, they can’t seem to get Henry’s name out of their mouths. Despite the show’s attempt to transform history into “her-story,” the cliche pop music feels more like an off-brand Taylor Swift Eras Tour, with the same nosebleed theater seating and excitedly obnoxious middle schoolers. Six does expand what popular, accessible theater can be. The musical for TikTok-hungry attention spans successfully meets young audiences where they are. Amorphous genres of music and garishly bedazzled costuming barely leave a second for viewers to think through what they’re watching. When you stop to process the show’s messaging, Six leaves much to be desired. The narrative, politics and music could be challenging and provocative, yet they never make any grand declarations about independence or love. Six, like Henry VIII, is overweight and ostentatious. Both refuse to fade into history and be forgotten. – Austin Kim

Only a half dozen actresses sing in the musical comedy Six, but their passionate voices create the illusion of a much larger ensemble. This empowering contemporary take on King Henry VIII’s wives reimagines their lives through a feminist lens. As the show opens with dramatic flashes of light and bass booms and ominous voices uttering “divorced, beheaded, died,” the stage of the Vaudeville Theatre in London’s West End takes on the energy of a concert arena. Each actress brings her own strengths to her role as one of Henry VIII’s ex-wives – from Nikki Bentley’s fiery vocals as the divorced wife Catherine of Aragon while singing “No Way” to Kayleigh McKnight’s emotional belts as the dead wife Jane Seymour in “Heart of Stone.”  Like the pop group Spice Girls, the actresses harmonize to form a wall of sound – and deliver sharp, impressively synchronized choreography that is as bold as the story’s rewriting of history. The show is perfect for anyone looking for a fun, short musical with dancey and memorable bops. – Sammi Li

In need of a boost without the caffeine-induced heart arrhythmias of a jumbo coffee? Look to the high-energy spectacle of Six at the Vaudeville Theatre. This 80-minute musical is a feisty but shallow approach to history, repositioning the six wives of Henry VIII as modern-day pop divas competing for the title of who suffered the most. Each queen’s song is fierce, minus the cringe-worthy “Heart of Stone,” with Jane Seymour (Kayleigh McKnight) embarrassingly acknowledging her inexplicable devotion to the notorious king. Yet, Queen Catherine of Aragon (Nikki Bentley) slams the room with attitude in “No Way” as the first solo of the night, strutting in a flashy gold skirt. Though Natalie Pilkington understudied for original cast member Inez Budd, who usually portrays Katherine Howard, she is unpolished, with misplaced breaths and off-pitch moments detracting from songs like “All You Wanna Do.”  Regardless, her flirty attitude encapsulates Howard’s sensual spunk. Naomi Alade delivers a standout vocal performance as Anne Boleyn, typically played by Thao Therese Nguyen. And the costumes? The vision seems to come from pop-diva Lady Gaga’s closet, as each character wears a signature color in stiff but sleek, bedazzled tops. Anna of Cleves, played by Reca Oakley, demands to be seen in red, as her shorts literally fly off during “Get Down” as a part of the act. Post-show adrenaline may get theatergoers to hum the songs and swing their hips like queens late into the early morning hours. – Erica Schmitt

To borrow from its own lyrics, the West End musical Six is in “n-n-no way” a feminist retelling of Henry VIII’s failed marriages. The show attempts to empower his six wives with revealing costumes and chances to share their own perspectives. Taking England’s rigid monarchy into account, none of those women got similar opportunities before their respective divorces or beheadings. But instead of making a real difference by challenging misogynistic palace narratives, the story stereotypes each woman from likely manipulated historical accounts. For example, when Henry VIII really wanted a son, second wife Anne Boleyn only gave birth to a daughter. What if he created a story about her promiscuity as an excuse to behead her and marry someone else? Rather than challenging conventional wisdom and redeeming her character, Naomi Alade as Anne Boleyn proudly sings about flirting with other men to a chorus of “sorry, not sorry.” Moreover, the women in this supposedly empowering musical spend a lot of time trading insults about everything from their physical appearances to traumatic life events. While the confidence and outfits are great, Six misses the mark by focusing almost entirely on surface-level transformations that are fun to watch, but fleeting and misogynistic in nature. – Amanda Oliver

Structured more like a pop concert than a traditional musical, Six follows the lives of the wives. In this show-within-a-show, it's all girl power. The half dozen principal actresses share center stage with female backup musicians: two electric guitarists, a keyboard player and a drummer. In chronological order, wives one through six take turns owning the spotlight. Thao Therese Nguyen as Anne Boleyn performs with an upbeat, playful flair and TikTok-esque dance sequences while Kayleigh McKnight as Jane Seymour convincingly sings about her love for the king. Although the stage is small and the blocking is spare, nearly every other aspect of this show is loud and garish. The lighting starts bright and gets brighter, showier and flashier, eventually reaching a visual crescendo reminiscent of a Taylor Swift concert. The musical’s finale concludes with confetti soaring down from the rafters, as each actress performs an encore, paying homage and saying goodbye to their respective stories by reflecting on their character’s lives. The 5-year-old show’s vibrant sound and energy should appeal to modern audiences. Though it lacks complexity and a cohesive narrative, it’s an entertaining gem for theatergoers who want a simple, fun West End experience. – Andres Buenahora

Try Nye

This biographical drama captures the optimistic, energetic spirit of Aneurin “Nye” Bevan, who pulled off a seemingly radical dream and founded the British National Health Service (NHS) in 1948. Nye makes a central figure of British politics timeless and approachable. Beginning with Nye in the hospital post-surgery, director Rufus Norris takes the audience on a 160-minute ride through Nye’s childhood and adulthood. Although the timeline is confusing and jarring at times, it accurately demonstrates how his values and beliefs in equality persist.

Playing at the National Theatre’s Olivier in London, this hefty bio-drama presses rewind on the life of Aneurin “Nye” Bevan (Michael Sheen), who created Britain’s post-World War II National Health Service. This surreal production brings the audience from a comatose Nye’s sickbed through scenes that feel half-lucid themselves, as hospital cots transform into Parliament podiums and the ubiquitous toothpaste-green curtains give way to the Welsh mining town of his childhood. Beyond the novel staging and creative set use, however, the glacially paced play sets its ambitions too high. Despite the 160-minute runtime, which unnecessarily drags out scenes such as Bevan’s school troubles, the show still glosses over the titan’s life. While British theatergoers chuckled knowingly with the political references, audience members unfamiliar with Nye’s biography and stint as minister of health may struggle to digest the plot. Still, Sheen’s dynamic acting makes this inspirational play worth watching, as viewers are inevitably pulled along.  – April Li

Michael Sheen’s performance captures Nye’s essential idealism, but the show’s true star is the set design. The scenery is made up almost entirely of curtains and hospital beds, manipulated in every scene to depict diverse settings, keeping the audience engaged and curious. Although Bevan did not create the NHS until later in his life, the set ensures that the seeds of the NHS exist in every scene. The combination of Bevan’s political, health and family issues left the audience crying, laughing and, at times, silent. It is a must see for both those aware of who Nye is and those who may know nothing about British politics. – Evelyn Driscoll

Aneurin “Nye” Bevan (Michael Sheen) lies on his deathbed in the hospital he helped create. Through an intricately woven series of flashbacks, Nye, a new play by Welsh playwright Tim Price, details the surprising life story of the father of the National Health Service. The show, performed at the National Theatre, aligns perfectly with the venue’s founding mission of making theater accessible to all. For a play dedicated to one of the welfare state’s greatest advocates, it is a fitting setting. The set design itself is simple but powerful, composed of just a few hospital beds and seafoam green curtains. For audience members unfamiliar with 20th century British politics, the first act may be confusing, mainly because it spells out Bevan’s parliamentary debut at length. However, the second act more than makes up for it: Sheen takes the audience on an emotional rollercoaster with heart-wrenching memories of his father’s illness, his strong-willed political idealism and his desire to help others. But the play also puts Bevan under the microscope, examining the ways he fell short as a husband, brother and spouse. Ultimately, Nye shines a spotlight on the cracks in our healthcare systems and asks, “How can we, in good conscience, allow so many people to slip through?” – Ava Mandoli

Nye, starring an energetic Michael Sheen as Welsh politician and National Health Service founder Aneurin “Nye” Bevan, has its heart in the right place. But it attempts to address a host of issues that can’t quite fit into its already long runtime. Told in flashbacks from a hospital ward, with Sheen clad in pajamas for the entire show, the play creatively uses its limited set, with hospital beds (including patients) standing in for podiums and curtains lowering to create bars or the trappings of Parliament. The plot follows Bevan from his childhood through his burgeoning political consciousness and his tenure in Parliament and as minister of health and housing – told through vignettes interspersed with his present-day state in a coma in the hospital. The relived memories gradually careen into madness, with musical numbers and lurid lighting accentuating the surrealist nature of memory and the changeable way personal histories are perceived. The play can feel overstuffed, and its themes can suffer from overcrowding, as it touches on Bevan’s tumultuous political career, his monumental achievements and the power of collective action, while simultaneously highlighting the women, notably his sister and wife, who made his career possible through sacrifices of their own. In sum, Nye is a touching and occasionally overwhelming tribute to a complicated man – and a meditation on legacy itself. – Mika Ellison

Former British politician Aneurin “Nye” Bevan might not seem a compelling subject for a 160-minute stage play at first glance. But in Nye at the Royal National Theatre, Michael Sheen imbues the national hero with layers of complexity, bringing his all to an important and moving story. Running through May 11, this tour de force in anachronistic storytelling lets the Welsh actor – best known for playing Tony Blair in The Queen – display his dramatic range. The play struggles to find its footing during the first act, with disorienting flashbacks that haphazardly tell Bevan’s origin story. But after intermission, Sheen shines with rich and moving material from playwright Tim Price, who artfully guides the viewer through the former health minister’s uphill battle to nationalize healthcare. Standout performances from Bea Holland as Bevan’s wife and Tony Jayawardena as Winston Churchill round out Sheen’s presence. Director Rufus Norris also cleverly uses minimalist set design to enhance the story, with two rows of hospital beds constantly pushing the plot forward. History buffs and both high- and low-brow theatergoers will find much to love about Nye, as much a tale of family and personal reflection as it is a political epic. – Jacob Wendler