Sometimes, a great idea finds perfect execution. This is the case with Six, a feminist reclaiming of the Six Wives of Henry VIII as a playful and dazzling popstar concert.
Developed by Cambridge University students Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss for the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2017, Six gathered acolytes and shifted to the West End in 2019. A run at the Sydney Opera House in early 2020 stalled because of the pandemic, and this Australian tour restages that production with a mix of new and returning performers.
Framed as an Idol-style pop contest, the six queens compete in musical battle to find out who had the worst experience with Henry VIII, a husband known not only for discarding and beheading his wives, but for foul-smelling, oozing leg ulcers.
The catchy music lifts the styles of pop royalty, with regal Catherine of Aragon evoking the Queen of the Grammys Beyoncé, and loyal Jane Seymour crooning like Adelle. The homages ensure variety, and the mischievous lyrics fizz with character.
The Australian cast is exceptional. Phoenix Jackson Mendoza blazes as Catherone of Aragon, Kala Gare gives a brilliant comic performance as a bogan Anne Boleyn, Loren Hunter is entrancing as Jane Seymour, Kiana Daniele brings punk energy to Anne of Cleves, Chelsea Dawson is dynamic and sensual as Katherine Howard, and Vidya Makan moves the heart as survivor Catherine Parr.
Costumes originally designed by Gabriella Slade and here managed by Associate Costume Designer Nigel Shaw are flashy and textured, giving each singer a unique silhouette and colour theme. The costumes also burst with symbolism: Anne Boleyn, for instance, is green for her link to the song Greensleeves, and wears a choker in reference to her decapitation.
At 75 minutes with no interval, the show is the perfect length. The pop concert staging is straightforward and practical but lets the singers hype the audience and keep energy high.
In 1982, Caryl Churchill’s play Top Girls used women of history to explore the changing role of women. Six is a rescue mission, flipping the script on history to put these English queens in the spotlight. Like Hamilton, Six is loose with history, more interested in making it relevant than accurate.
But a carping attitude to history misses the point. This is brilliant fun, the play of the moment, and mandatory entertainment - #MeTudor