SIX – Festival Theatre

Written by Toby Marlow & Lucy Moss

Directed by Lucy Moss & Jamie Armitage

History is widely written by men; no wonder we didn’t pay attention in school. Unless you have had the misfortune of a beheading or being pushed into a nunnery by your gout-suffering brut of a husband, Six is the concert musical sensation which rules the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, stormed the Westend and conquered Broadway. They may have been divorced, beheaded and died, but on stage, they thrive. 

A testament to the colossal power of a lucrative, stimulating idea and the influence of the Festival Fringe, Six descends on high to mingle with the common folk. This regal return for the wives of Henry VIII reminds us all that behind the man were six efficacious, prominent and notably individual women. All of whom deserve a damn-site more praise and attention than their historical footnotes.

Of course, the real question is: “who’s your favourite”? Which Queen deserves to lead the band, own her crown and step out from Henry’s broad shadow? Should it be the seductress Anne Boleyn; the woman who would give birth to Queen Elizabeth I? Or maybe, the Spanish mother, the O.G, Catherine of Aragon is the royal of your heart? Or could it just be those other women, the ones whose names sit on the edge of your tongue? Six has a primary concert premise, a seventy-five-minute run-time, but vivacious talent, legions of fans and a cast of undeniably skilled women befitting their crowns.  

So, roll up your Green Sleeves lords and ladies of the court, it’s a right royal rumble, for now at least. From the scintillating imagination of Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss, Six pounds with a heart of musical theatre, but with the blood and teeth of a gig. Both Marlow and Mosses’ lyrical ability gifts the audience with ten unique numbers full of a rainbow of hilarity, affection, cattiness and fury. The vocals of the team, consisting of Lauren Drew, Maddison Bulleyment, Lauren Byrne, Shekinah McFarlane, Jodie Steele and Athena Collins has an intense, diverse range of tone, purpose and delivery.

There are raps, power ballads and break-out those glowsticks folks – we have club-house beats. It is though, Steele’s number ‘All You Wanna Do’ which has a lyricism and choreography that delves swiftly from raunchy into depraved, tormenting and a piece of artistic expression which holds context across centuries. In reverse, Haus of Holbein and Get Down shatter the glass ceiling, shake the Festival theatre and propel the audience into bursts of energetic movements, courtesy of McFarlane who channels enviable energy, a lust for life and pizazz which carries us into the shows second half.

In transitioning to the stage, minor adjustments have been taken to provide a sense of theatricality for the touring production. For those familiar with the Queen’s Fringe performances, the changes make a welcome addition, though in moments the crowns need a little polish. Chiefly, communicating pathos to the audience, emotion ramped up from a natural state, where the lyrics and vocals are equally capable of conveying the destructive abuse of histories obsession with sexualising these women.

Blasting concerns of the production occupying the venue space, Emma Bailey’s set design maintains its structure from previous years – evidence to how well-thought the original construction was. Playfully, the lighting design transforms concert dynamics, spotlights make the obvious appearance, but it is the neon, the bulb-lights and manner in which Tim Deiling’s lighting design knows precisely what temperature and shading will contrast, or indeed complement each number which heightens the show.

Before we go, before you even think we’re done; let’s mention Gabriella Slade’s costumes. Sharp stitching houses the essence of characterisation in glorious shades of attitude. It wouldn’t be a show about Queen’s, had their gowns not slain quite as mercilessly as their husband. Nor would they be anywhere without their ladies in waiting; Arlene McNaught, Vanessa Domonique, Frankie South and Kat Bax on instrumentals, McNaught also providing musical direction.

Lucy Moss & Toby Marlow have given a voice to the past, a voice which in-turn speaks for the future. Placing these icons of history in the spotlight, Six is more than a concert history lesson, it has a vaster depth than a feminist musical; Six is an example of the trials of passion, a coming together in the name of rejoice, not revenge and vitally, is a show worth losing your head over.

SIX runs at teh Festival theatre until February 9th. Tickets available from: https://www.capitaltheatres.com/whats-on/six-the-musical

Photo Credit: Johan Persson

Forget Me Not – Royal Lyceum Theatre

Piano & Conduction by Barrie Kosky

Performed by Komische Oper Berlin 

When it comes to Yiddish culture, it’s true what they say – they made Hollywood. They built Broadway. There is not a composer or lyricist creating today in Western culture who was not, indirectly or otherwise, influenced in some way by Yiddish musicians, singers and composers. A team of three from the Komische Oper Berlin bring the reverence of their entire orchestra to Scotland to pay tribute to Yiddish language and the creators before them.

For a mere 4,000 years, Jewish culture has stood as the oldest monotheistic religion. With this, the Yiddish language is around 1000 years old, though speakers are now significantly lower due to the events of the Second World War. But Forget Me Not – sung in Yiddish with English subtitles – is not about sympathy, nor tear-shedding. Featuring the works of genre-defining composers Abraham EllsteinJoseph Rumshinsky and the lyricist Molly Picon, it is a celebration of the language from Warsaw, to Broadway, and then back again.

Pianist Barrie Kosky kicks off the show with a tone which pervades the evening. His approach generates a familial atmosphere; this is just one extensive gathering of your relatives, friends, and those uncles you never liked. It’s warming, his humour effortless, and the decision to avoid scripted junctions between songs brings a natural rapport with the audience.

Performing arias and occasionally sharing the stage are Alma Sadé and Komische legend Helene Schneiderman. Though both primarily sopranos, Schneiderman teeters into the edges of mezzo-soprano when the occasion calls. Vocally exceptional, the way they perform stands them apart from their peers. Together they take us back to the misery and sarcasm of Yiddish Operetta, spanning film and stage productions from the 1880s to the 1930s.

Scriptures, poems and songs bare the scars of history. Imploring us to keep our mindsets away from 1933, encouragement is still needed to liberate the forgotten music of the Holocaust. Abraham Goldfaden’s Rozhinkes mit mandl’n, or Raisins & Almonds, is a lullaby mothers, sisters and friends would sing to the children in the concentration camps. To describe the beauty this number summons, primarily through the soprano tones of Sadé and Schneiderman, feels inherently wrong, yet this haunting, instilling performance is breathtaking in its gravitas.

It isn’t all tears, however, as a goal of changing the mindset over Jewish history is up for discussion. The Holocaust, always to hold as an example of how far from the path humanity can stray, does not define a people. With this, an appropriate amount of melodramatic comedy is thrust into the audience, swaying the emotional pendulum in the opposite direction. It’s all or nothing this evening. Schneiderman lifts any doldrum slithering into the mindset of the audience from the poignant pieces mentioned. Her louder than life attitude, unequivocally controlling her vocals, reminds us of the celebration aspect in the evening, bringing Yiddish culture to life on stage.

Opera has a grand image of bold, belting numbers. Forget Me Not is of a different calibre, balancing prestige and a sense of humour. Sadé and Schneiderman’s ability to carry the vocals without resulting in bombastic shrieks is testament to their marvellous skill.

Review originally published for Wee Review: https://theweereview.com/review/forget-me-not/

Glòir @ The Usher Hall

Led by the Massed Gaelic Choirs of Scotland

Over fifty thousand individuals reportedly speak Gaelic throughout Scotland. As an indigenous language, it’s official status is not recognised by either the UK nor European Union, though thanks to the Gaelic Language (Scotland) 2005 Act it is here, to an extent. Attempts to revitalise it’s use are ongoing, one such hero in doing so was the late Iain Macleòid (John Macleod).

Within seconds though, one cannot neglect to hear the earthly beauty from Comunn nan Còisirean Gàidhig, The Association of Gaelic Choir’s Glòir. Even for those of us who have a limited (often erroneous) understanding which extends to slàinte or the naughtier words cannot deny the importance of the status the language deserves.

Of the thirty choirs, 24 or so are gathering in Edinburgh to mark their respect for John Macleod – a champion of the language. A man who did his utmost to publicise and encourage the use, research and teaching of the Gaelic language as well as it’s scriptures and songs. In a celebration of Gaelic spiritual music, this evening is hosted by Jackie Cotter as we are treated to sublime renditions to create warm memories.

As a community, the choirs are often conducted by a variety of masters and musicians, including MacLeod’s own children Màiri and Calum. Both of whom are accomplished performers being talented vocally, instrumentally and in recitation. As one would expect from often competing performers, not one puts in a weak performance. A plethora of psalms, melodies and songs lace around each other, complimenting the previous whilst flowing into the next.

Concerning is the length in time it has taken for a revised performance from the choirs, nearly thirty years (in the same venue no less). As we wish the gathering had come together under happier circumstances, there is a sense that no finer tribute could be called upon for a man who served his language so remarkably than to unite them again.

The science of music is not found only in the voice, but through accompanying instrumentals. A three-piece movement The Quiet Man is performed by Na Clàrsirean, on the Celtic harp or Clarsach. The arrangement created by Isobel Mieras enables the musicians to produce assonance which, for some is haunting. It’s the nature of music to move us, shift feelings and stir emotion. What is accomplished is to not only offer praise to the former President of An Comunn Gàidhealach but to remind the nation of the beauty of this instrument

Recognition is at the heart of the choir, but so too do they look to the future. Which looks promising with the marvellous contributions from City of Edinburgh Music School Following the first act, the remainder of the performance provides a mix of classic with contemporary pieces, most notably Soisgeul – the Gaelic gospel choir with Gareth Fuller. Their energy is remarkable, dedication to the artistry of music as they project well into the hall. It’s a livelier, upbeat tempo serving to deliver their reverence of spirituality into the 21st century.

Perplexing is the fact that we find no confusion in attending an aria performed in a different language. Many will flock in droves to the sublime works of our neighbouring creators, but we find it less investing to look north, to the cultural splendour of the west coast of Scotland.

For those who are unable to attend, it is encouraged that you tune into BBC Nan Gàidheal in a couple of weeks to listen to the recordings of the choir. Rarely is such warmth communicated onstage, an inherently different kind of community and dedication is present. Glòir is a performance which no doubt would raise a smile for the upholder of Gaelic John Macleod; agus leig e leis gu bràth.

Review originally posted for Reviews Hub:
https://www.thereviewshub.com/gloir-the-usher-hall-edinburgh/

For more information on the various Gaelic choirs, please visit:
http://www.gaelicchoirs.org.uk/