BWW REVIEW: Storming The Stage To Set The Record Straight, The Brilliantly Badass Queens Of SIX Rock The Sydney Opera House.
Thursday 9th January 2020, 7:30pm, The Studio Sydney Opera House
The all Australian and all female Cast of SIX raises the roof and re-writes history as it schools Sydney with a the Her-Story of the Six wives of Henry VIII. Lucy Moss and Toby Marlow's (both Book, Music, Lyrics) smash hit new musical reconsiders the way history has portrayed the Tudor Royal wives.
Most people that have even a basic knowledge of English history will know that Henry VIII had six wives. Some may remember their names, Catherine of Aragon (Chloé Zuel), Anne Boleyn (Kala Gare), Jane Seymour (Loren Hunter), Anna of Cleves (Kiana Daniele), Katherine Howard (Courtney Monsma) and Catherine Parr (Vidya Makan). Depending on when and where you went to school, you may remember their fates as "Divorced, Beheaded, Died; Divorced, Beheaded, Survived". With history predominantly written by men, or at least written for a patriarchal society which saw nothing wrong in blaming a woman for something a man has done, Moss and Marlow's work seeks to set the records straight and consider the stories with modern wisdom and the recognition that even in the sixteenth century there were powerful men spinning 'fake news' to protect the pride of their egotistical leader.
SIX sees the six wives of Henry VIII, who reigned for the first half of the 16th century, reunite on a 21st Century rock concert stage with the intention of forming a Girl Group Pop group. Their dilemma lies with who should lead the group and they decided that the woman who put up with the most "BS" from the King would win the position. Each Queen shares their side of the story, in effect correcting history, through song, often with the support of the rest of the wives. They are also supported by the 'Ladies in Waiting' band of Claire Healy (Musical Director and Keys), Ali Foster (Drums), Debbie Yap (Guitar) and Jessica Dunn (Bass).
The Studio space is given a more intimate feel with the stage set across the north eastern corner of the lower floor allowing good vantage points from the low level and the balcony seating. Emma Bailey's set comprises a glossed black tiered stage with space for the Ladies in Waiting to flank a central stairway. The backdrop of archways contains LED lighting that helps convey scene changes, from varying arches for the different residences the Queens found themselves in to an expression of the church where the Roman Catholic Catherine of Aragon showed her loyalty to the church and the amusing parallels drawn between Tudor courting techniques and modern technology. Tim Deiling's lighting design adds to the rock concert vibe whilst having more reflective moments like Jane Seymour's Heart Of Stone and Catherine Parr's I Don't Need Your Love and the combination of blacklight and the additions to Gabriella Slade's costuming add an amusing element to the already hilarious German tekkno-pop of Haus of Holbein. The standout design element is however Gabriella Slade's costuming that ensures the focus remains firmly on the Queens. Each queen is given signature color worked with the black leather and metal hardware to create unique looks that have solid roots in the tudor styles, particularly the portraits that survive of the Queens, with a modern makeover with "Queenspiration" from contemporary pop 'royalty' and a harder edge as a form of battle armor along with 'sensible' elements that work with Carrie-Anne Ingrouille's choreography. Common elements appear in various forms like the fact that each Queen wears a spiked crown of sorts, from Aragon and Seymour's more traditional headpieces to Boleyn's bun covers, the combs that hold up Cleve's mohawk of curls, Howard's ponytail holder and the lines of spikes that sit alongside Parr's rows of plaits.
The singing and the dancing is fabulous across the whole group. Giving full energy and passion to Moss and Marlow's work, each singer ensures that the text, which is incredibly clever, is clear. There is a wonderful intimacy and connection of the work with the audience as these 'ghosts' present their case for why their life was the hardest. Monologues that often precede songs are given a heartfelt honesty and throughout, Zuel, Gare, Hunter, Daniele, Monsma and Makan delightfully infuse their own voices and their own interpretation of what their Queen would be like in a modern world into their expressions of their Queens, refraining from trying to sound like the original London cast recording, as so many other touring productions try to do. Gare gives Boleyn a delicious gritty sass while Hunter's Seymour has the older world Australian accent which still has a refinement of the 'old country' and Daniele gives Cleves a somewhat bogan-ish roughness inkeeping with the fact the German Queen was not as educated as Henry's previous wives. They all nail the comic timing of the work, from their dialogue to their songs, with the ability to hold silence as jokes land, and re-land without anything more being said showing a deep understanding of the comedy of the work and the way the audiences minds will work.
Possibly a bold statement only two weeks in to 2020, but SIX is the must-see musical of the year. With its origins as an Edinburgh Fringe Festival show in 2017 to a rapid rise to main Stage West End Production in 2019, it is wonderful that Australia gets to see this celebration of female power, passion and solidarity so early that we can for once say we've seen something before it hit Broadway, which it is due to do in March. Get along, learn the real Her-Story of the famous Tudor Wives and have a great time as well.
Photos: James D Morgan