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

Six @ Underbelly George Square

Image contribution:
Idil Sukan

Lyricist & Composer Toby Marlow

Playwrights: Toby Marlow & Lucy Moss

Believe all of the hype you may have heard, Six is a concert-style musical which, like its women, will stand the test of time.

Any Fringe-goer with an ear to the ground knows Six is one of the most anticipated shows this year. Whilst the executioner may have claimed Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard – can they survive the hype? Oh, honey, these ladies haven’t just (divorced, beheaded) survived, they’ve thrived. 

Fed-up with simply being part of a rhyme, the six wives of Henry the VIII decide to strike out on their own in the form of a band. Who should be lead vocals though? Surely it must be the one Henry was wed to the longest, Catherine of Aragon? Or perhaps the one he truly loved – Jane Seymour? Vengeful, driven to sing their side of history, these women have finally decided to step out of the shadows of men, spotlight and crown first. 

Not a single number falters; from pop to techno-house, the writers of Six have excelled themselves with this marriage of entertainment, drama and engaging lyrics. Nowhere is this showcased better than through dearly forgotten Catherine Howard. Her overtly sexualised depiction in media is lampooned by Six, yet her characterisation still respected. What starts as light-hearted and passionate quickly descends as her face contorts, shifting into anguish. The twisted distortion crossing her gaze, the unyielding hands grasping and clutching at her frame, Catherine suddenly becomes to most relatable Queen for women in the audience. 

Literature makes us think we remember these six women due to their husband when in reality, we remember him due to these fascinating individuals. Without them Henry VIII’s accomplishments, invasions and shortcomings would indeed have been documented, but would culture have held onto him so? History may have been written by men – but this time it stars women, and quite rightly so

Review originally published for The Skinny:
https://www.theskinny.co.uk/festivals/edinburgh-fringe/six-underbelly

Tickets available from Capital Theatres:
https://www.capitaltheatres.com/whats-on/six-the-musical