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

Daphne, or Hellfire

Writer: Isla Cowan

Director: Avigail Tlalim

Some might find familiarity in the tale of Apollo & Daphne, at the very least, a spark of recognition could occur with the idea of a young woman, a nymph, surrendering her flesh into bark, transforming into a tree to avoid Apollo’s amorous assault. Daphne, Or Hellfire is a new script from Isla Cowan, a rising Scottish playwright who aims to raise Daphne from the folly of mythology, instilling her with a core of feminism and tie the myth into our blindness towards climate change.

A young couple, hopelessly romantic, disgustingly so, Daphne has her career, as well as a passion for ecological studies, landscaping and promoting our ignorance of climate change. Apollo, dashing as ever, is a young marketing guru, who just so happens to be working with a housing development. A twisted parable for the 21st century, Cowan drags Daphne and Apollo from a world of Gods, acropolises and Ambrosia, into a realm of capitalism, property and rice-pudding.

We’ll say this, while other productions dance around the subject of our planets violation at the hands of everyday capitalism, Cowan’s work takes no interest in a soft approach. It’s a refreshingly volatile piece, which has intention behind the writing. There is no sugar coating or skirting the issue – Daphne, Or Hellfire is an impactful production which refuses to bow to ease of access, keeping its source material close to the vein of the story, while wrapping it in a powerful eco-feminist coating. In doing so, cracks occur in the overall neatness of the show.

An issue lies with Apollo’s depiction. Taking from his inspiration, Apollo is meant to come across as brash, boastful and encapsulating everyday attitudes surrounding the environment and waste. When in reality, Patrick Errington’s Apollo is just too damned nice. He comes across as borderline boastful, but all too mortal. Enabling a connection with the audience, who can sympathise with Apollo’s protestations at recycling, rejected gifts and pursuing a career, Errington is too human, too easy to understand with and at times, places Daphne as the frustrating of the two.

A powerhouse on stage, Cowan’s conviction in her performance is as strong as her writing. It takes time for a presence to build, but this is in line with the character as Daphne emerges from the shadow of her partner and father’s constant pressure. By the finale, Cowan’s physicality, seething with a suppressed, is impressive, intimidating and demonstrates her performance capability along with her writing. Daphne is no more a nymph of legend, she is a woman. Proud, determined but most importantly – human.

How fitting, that in the original mythos, it is an arrow of lead which begins Daphne’s downfall from fierce nymph, and here it is the lead-laden air we breathe in which Daphne chooses her form to be at one with the earth. Cowan’s writing is at most impressive here, subverting the narrative she adapts it from, taking Daphne’s cry for help and morphing it into the empowerment of femininity, tying it to her relationship with the earth. If anything, it’s painful to realise that a portion of the script is perhaps too sharp for a general audience, who most likely miss out on the nuances of these portions of the script.

Here, is both the heel and strength of Daphne, or Hellfire. It’s a masterful piece of poetic writing from a new playwright, which leans heavily on ambitions, risks alienating an audience. Cowan is a playwright that any in Scotland would do well to keep an eye too, channelling her very own hellfire to scorch the earth, her passion evident, her aggression tightened into her pen.

Tigers Are Not Afraid

Written & Directed by Issa López

Since the involvement of the Mexican government in 2006, the war on Drug cartels and trafficking have torn apart the cultural landscape of South America, surprisingly without much focus from many Western nations. With upwards of 160,000 recorded deaths, with many children being hidden on the fatality list, ‘Tigers Are Not Afraid’ (2017) blends together a mixture of spiritual folklore, horror and dramatic filmmaking to highlight the atrocity of reality, and how this Halloween ghosts and spectres are far tamer than the genuine monsters this world faces.

Flirting with the fantastical, writer and director Issa López has gone on to receive tremendous respect for her piece. A story of Estrella’s (Paola Lara) quest to find her mother, who has been snatched by drug-traffickers, leads to an encounter with a group of lost boys. Here, they steal, laugh and survive in a harsh city district, hiding from the Huascas, a drug cartel, after the boy’s leader Shine (Juan Ramón López) steals a cartel’s phone containing contacts, evidence and a few photos of the both Shine and Estrella’s mothers.

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Thankfully, López has the backbone to treat this horror with the required nerve, refusing to hide behind off-screen deaths. Anyone is fair game, a testament to the callousness of Mexico’s drug-feuds. Of course, though, the one person they would never suspect to hold the key, or rather the chalk, to foiling their plans, would be a woman, or better still, a young girl. Estrella receives three ‘wishes’ by her teacher, in a tear-inducing symbolic gesture of the weapon against the drug trade, and patriarchal fear – education.

“López has the backbone to treat this horror with the required nerve, refusing to hide behind off-screen deaths. Anyone is fair game, a testament to the callousness of Mexico’s drug-feuds.”

Arming herself with these wishes, Estrella’s performance from Paolo Lara is a part of the film’s success, with others being López’s concept and the character of Shine. A generic narrative of ‘careful what you wish for’ is in lew put the background, integral but not the focal point. Lara’s wishes result in fear-inducing events; the first, to have her mother return, brings the measure of horror forward. Lara is a natural, naïve but sturdy enough to stand against the boys, becoming a mother figure, in what is a thinly veiled reference of Peter Pan. Her back and forth with Shine, who so desperately wants to be the tiger he dresses is a relationship at the core of the film.

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Symbolically, these tigers, these people who desire to move from their storybook princes into stealthy, majestic creatures are far from the animals they idolise. Splattering the streets of Mexico with graffiti, the Huascas are illustrated with claws, teeth and the slit eyes – when in reality, they are anything but. Shine’s ‘cowardice’ keeps him from earing these stripes. Shine himself, noting that as a ‘king of a fucked-up kingdom’ he cannot kill the man who stole his mother. This lack of assertive cruelty somehow equates to masculinity, communicating volumes to the film’s intention.

“Lara is a natural, naïve but sturdy enough to stand against the boys, becoming a mother figure, in what is a thinly veiled reference of Peter Pan.”

Mexico has a diverse, intense relationship with death, horror and the spiritual. Currently undergoing a renaissance of Horror movies, these films created by Latin filmmakers like López or producer Marco Polo Constandse have no fear of the genre like their American counterparts. It’s Spanish title, ‘Vuelven’ translates to ‘Return’, a rather literal, though relating title. As such, spirits exist in the between, making for superbly tense shots from Juan Jose Saravia’s cinematography. Lingering, those who have suffered the Hollywood fake-out or jump scare will be unnerved by how silent this film can be, allowing an uncomfortable unease to do the work. As we close-in on shots, empty and grim, a small movement, or perhaps the sound effect is enough to push your eyes away.

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Just as methodically unpleasant, Vicent Pope’s score is uncomfortable, but in that rare manner, only Horror can achieve. It works, you’re not put off by the design of the score, but there’s something which hazes your senses. Together, Pope and López capture the fear these children experience, just how open and vulnerable they are. Bleeding through our reality, folklore weaves around the film, keeping itself to the realm of shadowy imagination. It’s in effect how the blending of genres should work, neither takes a principle role, complimenting one another.

The fairy-tale gruesomeness never diminishes the realism, and the gritty drug-focused horror never detracts from the myth. Treating aspects of legend in reverence, similar to master of the craft Guillermo Del Torro, López’s sense of mystic is two-fold, an escape from the harsh monstrosities of reality and punishment for our antagonist. For the most part, the blending is sublime, a metaphorical sense of horror than a cheap sense of fright, but sadly one or two jump scares, and a peculiar revival of a stuffed animal draws us straight out of the immersion.

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“Bleeding through our reality, folklore weaves around the film, keeping itself to the realm of shadowy imagination. It’s in effect how the blending of genres should work, neither takes a principle role, complimenting one another.”

Generalizing a complex social-political issue, López seems unsure of where to draw her focus. Aware to place the children at the heart of the narrative, with the supernatural enveloping the surrounding darknesses, it leaves little room for physical antagonists in the form of The Huascas or Chino, though Ianis Guerrero provides a marvellous climax alongside Lara and Ramon López as the spiritual horror kicks in a gear or two, with a repulsive, somehow sickeningly satisfying punishment for the human-trafficker. ‘Tigers Are Not Afraid’ continues Mexico’s history of tremendous pieces of horror, an example of Hispanic – Latina cinema’s continuing trend to take the chances Hollywood fears to gamble on.

Review originally published for In Their Own League