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

The Belle's Stratagem – The Royal Lyceum

Written by Hannah Cowley

Adaptated and directed by Tony Cowie

Originally conceived in the late seventeen hundreds, Hannah Cowley’s The Belle Stratagem is a sublime comedy of manners. Taking every pre- and ill-conceived notion one may have about a woman and giving it a good slap across the chops. Adapted for the Royal Lyceum we are no longer in Drury Lane London, but in New Town Georgian Edinburgh, and all the better for it.

Divided by two primary stories of love, Stratagem has a varied cast of unique players. Our first is of a young well-to-do lassie (Angela Hardie), fallen madly in love with her returning betrothed. His tastes, however, have been spoiled by those most wretched of temptresses: European Women. If she cannot claim his love, she will claim his passionate hatred. Our other tale is that of newly married Lady Touchwood, whose snivelling pathetic husband is terrified of her discovering city life. Stitched together through similar circles, both women become entangled in strategies to open the eyes of the men around them. 

The beauty of Stratagem is found in its humour. An equal split between the onstage talent, and the witty adaptation of Tony Cownie. Any who were lucky enough to view a Lyceum’s previous production Thon Man Moliere know of Cownie’s ability to draw the best from his cast. This production’s comedy is derived from so many layers it’s exceptional: physical, lyrical, cultural and moving from outrageously farcical to incredulously subtle. O’Rourke, McNicoll and Nicola Roy thieving the best lines of the night. It is so accessible due to this. Many see a period comedy, written by and about women at the Lyceum as potentially middle class or too clever. This couldn’t be further from the truth; The Belle’s Stratagem is theatre crafted for everyone.

The entire male cast, particularly Richard Conlon, Grant O’Rourke and Steven McNicoll, play at least one character with a whiff of misogyny to them. Yet, we still roar at their performances. This is a mark of irrefutable skill. An ever-present issue, long outstaying its welcome is both the subject of constant ridicule but still highlighted. Stratagem never slams anything into the audiences’ face, instead, it seeks to entertain, providing insight. Its feminine resistance is represented in all forms and across generations. It’s cutting, subversive, and jovial.

There’s something about the Scottish angle which just works for The Belle’s Stratagem. The multitude of dialects heightens the delivery, particularly from Pauline Knowles and Roy. The decision to localise it is genius, never feeling like a cheap ploy even when references are dropped without subtlety. There are enough for locals, tourists and especially history buffs.

The Lyceum brands itself with; ‘Theatre Made in Edinburgh‘, with good reason. The undeniable savvy of creators in this city is something to boast about. It has been over two hundred years and The Belle’s Stratagem is still relevant. Its indirect commentary on the folly of men and the social placement of woman is still needed. One day productions such as this will no longer be written, for all the right reasons. For now, we have pieces like this to laugh, share and enjoy.

Review originally published for Reviews Hub: https://www.thereviewshub.com/the-belles-stratagem-royal-lyceum-theatre-edinburgh/

Black Men Walking – Traverse Theatre

Writer: Testament

Director: Dawn Walton

Every breath of the landscape in this country echoes the lives of thousands across history. Beneath the soil, the lives of the rich, poor, women, men, Romans and black men and women lay forgotten to but a few. On the first Saturday, of every month, Matthew, Richard and Thomas walk these peaks – through two thousand years of history to find themselves, disconnect from technology, and in Thomas’ case – to reconnect with the past.

Profoundly lyrical, this first-time production for Revolution Mix is written by Testament, woven with intense word-play and tremendously honest humour. Without strong-arming, everything feels quite natural in the rhythmic chats between the characters. Testament’s piece perfectly emulates the desired effect of blending periods – to merge generational discussions; Alyeesha’s confusion over Thomas’ obsession with the past contrast with his disbelief in her lack of interest in her cultural history.

Maintaining a respectful nature – Black Men Walking also allows itself a brief insight into masculinity, in a rejuvenating light, tying the aspect of men returning to the land with the shadows of black men who performed in the courts of Henry the VII, were millers for the Romans, all while lampooning of the same concept of grown men’s boys clubs.

Delightfully charismatic, the titular men (as well as one straggler) perform their roles sincerely, drawing us in. Even with the dreary weather – you would have little question in enjoying a stroll with these people. Ben Onwukwe’s Thomas is a stoic role, a suggestion of fragility which evolves to us rather than slapping our faces – gradually building a rapport with Ayeesha, a young rapper who is perplexed by the men’s apparent ‘pleasure’ in walking.

As we wander through centuries of Black history on these Isles, Dorcas Sebuyange lowers a barrier of truth, though one we are all ashamedly aware. That some still find an unjustly perverse ‘right’ in determining whose home this is. Her injections accentuate the lyrical quality, showing a progression from mantra-like chants of before, into a new communication of rap, poetry and spoken word.

It is Trekkie-fan Tonderai Munyevu’s Richard, who is given the funnier lines, delivering them with conviction. An odd script, the jokes are borderline predictable but fit, especially when playing off of the home-stresses of Patrick Regis’s Matthew, whose body language flips when portraying the passive, phone obsessive father of two.

Complimenting the spoken word, Dawn Walton’s movement direction reinforces a spiritual aspect of history, bringing gravity in the repetitious ceremonies of these men’s monthly walks. Incorporating Simon Kenny’s design, an opaque barrier is put up at the back of the stage, serving as transitional cover for performers – or distorting space, entrapping characters in gorges or allowing for an unforeseen paranormal force.

And while the men may convey a sense of steady movement, there’s a loss of scale in Kenny’s design – a charming build, capturing the feel of the landscape, enriching colours with an awoken earth backdrop, but fails to reinforce the unforgiving landscape.

Tempest’s script is touching, without relying on exaggeration or melodrama. It relies on the, perhaps, unknown knowledge of the black men who built Britain, that there is a history buried beneath us, found in the milestones which have been denied or forgotten. It’s the sort of production you wish everyone could see, opening a dialogue away from ignorance through calming, story-driven theatre.

Review originally published for Reviews Hub: https://www.thereviewshub.com/black-men-walking-traverse-theatre-edinburgh/