SIX

SIX
By Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss. Louise Withers, Michael Coppel and Linda Bewick. The Studio, Sydney Opera House. Opening Night: January 9, 2020. Comedy Theatre Melbourne, from April 23. Her Majesty’s Theatre, Adelaide, from June 11.

SIX is a musical unlike any Tudor history lesson! Ever!

Reincarnating Henry VIII’s six wives today as vibrant, irreverent, contemporary pop divas (conveyed by fabulous local triple threats), SIX is a constantly surprising ‘her-story’, seen through a 21st century lens, while deflating long perpetuated myths.

Tired of being relegated to footnotes, clichés or stereotypes – ‘the boring one’, ‘the promiscuous one’, ‘the plain one’ or ‘the nurse’ – in 75 minute musical SIX, these women shine across the ages in their own right, the fully-formed, full-voiced highly individual stars of their own lives.

The Sydney Opera House Studio feels as much a concert arena, despite its intimacy, as a theatre, accentuated by Tim Deiling’s spectacular lighting design.

And a ripper of a pop-style score, inspired by the hits, concerts and video clips of modern female music stars, enhanced by Carrie-Anne Ingrouille’sslick, attitude-laden choreography and Gabriella Slade’s stunning costumes, combine to provide the show’s voice, far removed from the crusty, dusty pages of history. It’s very funny, occasionally bitchy, yet essentially it’s about sisterhood.

Patriarchal history has masked some particularly nasty and inconvenient truths which didn’t suit the preferred narrative. Beheaded teenage fifth wife Katherine Howard, long portrayed as promiscuous thanks to the records her inquisition, feels like an abused child today, while final wife, Catherine Parr, far from being Henry’s nurse, broke ground as a published female author.

SIX - the feminist, #MeToo version - is entertaining, celebratory and engaging. Created as a student production by then final year Cambridge University studentsToby Marlow and Lucy Mossfor the 2017 Edinburgh Fringe, West End producers snapped up the 75-minute festival hit. It’s now on its way to becoming an international theatrical phenomenon. Having toured the UK and North America, it’s Broadway-bound in March. Moss is also the show’s co-director, along with Jamie Armitage(the Australian Associate Director is Sharon Millerchip).

The flimsy plot premise - choosing the hardest-done-by wife to lead their girl group - is a nice running gag, and sure, the beheaded Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard probably seem the most obvious choices.

Each queen gets her own song to stake her claim, bookended by ensemble numbers, but throughout their individual stories, the remaining queens provide a stunningly harmonised girl band / backing vocals / Greek chorus.

Our talented Australian queens lose nothing by comparison with the pop princesses who SIX also joyously celebrates.

Chloé Zuel’s determined Catherine of Aragon launches the challenge with her fiercely determined “No Way”. Kala Gare challenges as vivacious, doomed Anne Boleyn in “Don’t lose ur head”. Loren Hunter’s sympathetic Jane Seymour delivers the touching ballad “Heart of Stone”. Who knew Tinder dating backfired even 500 years ago - Kiana Daniele’s deliciously comic Anna of Cleves happily evades Henry in the raunchy “Get Down”. Courtney Monsma’s Katherine Howard moves from youthful flirtatiousness to an engulfing dark world of sexual predators in the provoking “All You Wanna Do”. Vidya Makan, the self-assured Catherine Parr, delivers a powerhouse vocal on “I Don’t Need Your Love”.

In the end though, who could choose between these fabulous women, and the talented performers who portray them, as they coalesce into an empowered feminist force of nature over the course of the evening. They’re brilliantly supported throughout by an all-female band comprised of musical director Claire Healy on keyboards, guitarist Debbie Yap, Jessica Dunn on bass and drummer Ali Foster.

A crossover and cross-generational hit, SIX is drawing first-time audiences, while the original cast recording is a streaming phenomenon second only to Hamilton for show recordings, with more than 300,000 streams a day.

SIX is a boisterously fun night of theatre. As much a six star pop concert as a musical, with even a hint of Eurovision-ish wackiness thrown in. The opening night crowd was loud and demonstrative in our arena-style appreciation.

If you like musicals, it’s a startlingly different one. If you’re more into pop concerts, it’s a great musical theatre entrée.

Neil Litchfield

Photographer: James D Morgan - Getty Images.

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