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

Rock of Ages @ The Playhouse

Video Rights:
Rock of Ages

Book: Chris D’Arienzo

Director: Nick Winston

So, let’s dust off the Jukebox musical list: Lovers? Check. Business tycoon antagonist? Check. Glam Rocks’ greatest hits? Check. A flamboyantly fabulous narrator who also doubles as a sassy sound god. You betcha’. Welcome to Rock of Ages, not the usual Jukebox musical.

Set on the glorious Sunset Strip in the late eighties – dreams are lofty for the likes of Drew and Sherrie (Luke Walsh and Jodie Steele). They meet at the famous Bourbon Room owned by Dennis (Kevin Kennedy) and his associate Lonny. True to form, they fall in love – don’t admit it to one another and make mistakes, take gambles and drift apart. All as a sex-starved misogynistic singer robs Sherrie of her early chances and an occasional goose-stepping German buys out the club. It’s quite straight forward really.

Our strutting narr-a-tor Lonny, on paper, should not work. When in reality Lucas Rush carries the character with such fine comedic timing, giving every ounce of energy and charisma that it’s impossible not to find him endearing, hilarious and a highlight of the show. His interactions with the audience break down any barrier reservations, encouraging all to rock out.

Vocally – there are little to no faults with abundant talent and admirable control from our lead performers. Most notably Zoe Birkett, playing Justice, owner of Venus ‘gentleman’s’ club. Nick Winston’s direction knows where and when to utilise Birkett. In closing numbers, we can see how staging is constructed so she delivers the final notes. Her control is sensational. Whilst sharing the stage with the likes of Steele, who herself is vastly talented, the effortless delivery Birkett offers is remarkable.

Rock of Ages breaks the fourth wall, stamps on it and later invites it onstage to take a bow. It’s balanced as both pastiche and parody to sell itself. Whilst skewering the tropes of Andrew Lloyd Sondheim, (or is that Stephen Webber?) by physically announcing its need for a romantic lead it also pays homage to the great glam rock artists from White Snake to Styx, even Phil Collins gets a brief mention. The in-house band do a stellar job supporting the singers, with dynamic choreography supplied by Winston.

Now. As the production breaks the fourth wall it draws attention to a fault many musicals suffer, glancing into the attitudes of the music industry. It treads the line with performers ‘assets’. Raunchy, red-blooded and empowering some audience members may still find the flesh on display bordering on excessive. For the intelligence of the script, it’s part of the productions lampooning as much as it glorifies. For a general crowd, it’s an oversight they can enjoy. The only flaw is that its female stars, whilst written well only come into their own quite late into Act One.

Productions of a similar ilk – take note. This is precisely how to showcase Glam Rock in all of its thrusting, dark denim glory. Rock of Ages does not angle itself to be something it cannot be, it isn’t trying to tackle intense issues of the music empire. It thrives as its own piece, separate from others it (unfairly) will be held against. Whilst other shows may ‘rock you’ Rock of Ages will rock with you.

If at some point your blood isn’t pumping, a leg isn’t itching to dance, or you aren’t laughing – chances are you’d rather spend an evening with the Guardian. From the outset the audience of Rock of Ages are slaves to the beat, surrendering themselves over from quiet theatregoers to gig-screaming fans. If you think you’ve experienced a Jukebox musical – you haven’t until you’ve lived through Rock of Ages.

Review originally published for Reviews Hub:
https://www.thereviewshub.com/rock-of-ages-the-playhouse-edinburgh/

Production Touring:
http://www.rockofagesmusical.co.uk/tour/