30 July 2021
There is no doubt that the musical SIX has become something of a phenomenon. In front of a packed audience at the Theatre Royal Plymouth – the first non-socially distanced audience there for many months – there is whooping and cheering before the curtain rises. Although I have knowledge of the show, it is new to me, it is deep in the conscience of others.
Written for Cambridge University students and first aired at the Edinburgh Festival the show has far exceeded the expectations of the creators and become an incredible success. The six wives of Henry VIII are presented in an X-Factor-esque setting – competing for the top job in the group decided by who can persuade the audience that they suffered the most at the hands of the King. They bitch and bicker in the process as they try to outdo each other. Backed by the Ladies in Waiting – an excellent onstage quartet of musicians – this is a show of boundless sass and attitude and with more girl power than the Spice Girls could ever muster.
Each Queen gets the chance to tell her story in song; witty lyrics with plenty of history (and from what I can remember of the period it is fairly accurate), the sextet belt out their numbers; decibel levels hit the heights. The show moves with relentless pace until each of the queens has delivered their story, but then loses all momentum as the characters question the point of competing with each other; awkward silence on stage was reflected by the audience who fell silent for too long.
The music is high-powered in the main – the one rather more reflective song from Jane Seymour comes as something of a relief – but for the most part it lacks variety with reliance on the bass; the theatre fabric reverberated punishing the eardrums from time to time.
There is little plot to discuss, the individual stories speak for themselves, so there is no real engagement with the characters except deciding whether you like them or not – just as if you are watching a TV song competition. Conceptually it is very clever and you can see why it was a huge success at Edinburgh, but as shows go it is slight and paper thin.
The actors give it their all and obviously relish every moment – it may be invidious to single one of the queens out, but as Anna of Cleves, it is difficult not to be constantly drawn to the dynamic performance of Shekinah McFarlane.
The choreography is modern and energetic without being particularly innovative, but works in the context of the show and the design of set and costumes does likewise. Lighting is highly dynamic in design and operated with precision.
There is a target audience for the show and they patently enjoyed the chance to celebrate the power of women standing up for themselves and deciding they can work best as a group rather than as warring individuals. For this audience it was a blast from start to finish; funny, fun, awesome and thrilling – I was not one of those.
I can understand the success of SIX, but it seemed too lightweight – I actually think there is a bigger and better show in there somewhere. As it is, it felt incomplete and lacked enough light and shade to fully engage. Unpopular a view this may be, but it seems to me that as a piece of musical theatre this is too influenced by hackneyed TV competitions to hold its own in the genre. I should probably lose my head for saying so – but though I admired the concept, overall, SIX did nothing for me.
CAST & CREATIVES
CATHERINE OF ARAGON – LAUREN DREW
ANNE BOLEYN – MADDISON BULLEYMENT
JANE SEYMOUR – CAITLIN TIPPING
ANNA OF CLEVES – SHEKINAH MCFARLANE
KATHERINE HOWARD – VICTORIA MANSER
CATHERINE PARR – JENNIFER CALDWELL
LADIES IN WAITING
JOAN – SARAH BURRELL
MAGGIE – FRANKIE SOUTH
BESSIE – MEELIE TRAILER
MARIA – VANESSA DOMONIQUE
WRITERS – TOBY MARLOW & LUCY MOSS
DIRECTORS – LUCY MOSS & JAMIE ARMITAGE
CHOREOGRAPHY – CARRIE-ANNE INGROUILLE
SET DESIGN – EMMA BAILEY
COSTUME DESIGN – GABRIELLA SLADE
LIGHTING DESIGN – TIM DEILING