Review by Tim Garratt
Originally written by two Cambridge University students for the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, SIX the Musical has become a global smash hit. Now playing across the UK, North America, Australia and soon, The Netherlands, the poptastic take on the story of Henry VIII’s wives recently added two Tony Awards to its growing list of accolades, and its songs have been streamed over 500 million times worldwide. Perth and Brisbane will host the Australian tour of SIX for the first time later this year. Right now, however, the six wives of England’s most notorious monarch are back in Sydney for their third season.
SIX invites audiences to meet the 16th century Tudor queens, who’ve formed a pop group and are now performing live on stage. In doing so, the queens reveal not only their impressive vocal prowess, but also tell their own stories, from how they met the king, to how they each became just another of his ex-wives. They’ve actually decided to turn proceedings into a contest, and whoever is deemed to have suffered the most at Henry’s hands will become the group’s lead singer.
But in telling their tales, each member of the group realises they should seize a greater opportunity: to reclaim their stories and to be remembered as individuals, each with their own distinct story, as opposed to a mere wife of a tyrannical king. The concert becomes a chance for the six queens to re-write history, telling their own stories on their terms.
SIX asks us to re-examine our history and, more specifically, to consider from whose perspective it is recorded. Whose tales are preserved in perpetuity? Whose existence has been reduced to a footnote in someone else’s story? Clearly, it’s not only Henry VIII who gave short shrift to his wives.
The message central to SIX is important, and, helmed by Australian Associate Director Sharon Millerchip, it’s conveyed through one of the most exciting theatrical presentations audiences will experience this year. Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss have written a series of earworms inspired by the work of many of the world’s best pop divas, with lyrics that wonderfully mix history with humour. In realising the six queens, deference is paid to some of the biggest performers on contemporary stages, from Beyoncé, to Nicki Minaj, to Alicia Keys. Even a casual pop music fan will find something that sticks in their head among the many hummable tunes in the Tony Award-winning score.
Performing SIX on this Australian tour is a team of remarkably talented women (Phoenix Jackson Mendoza, Kala Gare, Loren Hunter, Kiana Daniele, Chelsea Dawson, Vidya Makan). Each performer is critical to the success of the show and demonstrates superior vocal skills, great comedic timing (particularly Gare and Daniele) as well as astonishing aerobic fitness (truly, no performer has more than a few seconds to catch their breath throughout the piece’s 75 minutes). And given the high calibre of performances across the board and the distinct and engaging character each performer delivers, it’s virtually impossible to name a standout.
An essential element of any good pop concert is live music, and SIX’s queens are backed amply by a stonking four-piece band, ‘The Ladies in Waiting’. The sound design (by Paul Gatehouse and David Tonion) ensures the pop score pulsates through the room, without the vocals being sacrificed.
A key difference between the current Sydney season and the two previous engagements is the venue. Previously, SIX has played at the 300-seat Sydney Opera House Studio, a space that’s a more natural home for cabaret and intimate concerts. This time around, at the Theatre Royal, the show plays in a proscenium theatre to much larger crowds (it seats 1,200 people). In the larger auditorium, the show has only improved. Enhanced lighting (by Tim Deiling and Jason Fripp) even more closely replicates the colour and movement we expect from an arena pop show, and the additional space the performers have allows Carrie-Anne Ingrouille’s choreography to be better showcased.
If you’re not one of the tens of thousands of Sydneysiders who’ve already experienced the phenomenon that is SIX, be sure to catch it this time around. It’s an electric and enormously entertaining piece that comes with timely commentary on the impact of patriarchal structures on recorded history. Genuinely, it is so much fun!
SIX – SYDNEY SEASON DETAILS:
Venue: Theatre Royal Sydney
Dates: Playing now until 1 October, 2022
Tickets from: www.sixthemusical.com.au