Review by Carly Fisher
Things just got a whole lot more ‘royal’ at our newest large theatre in Sydney with the homecoming of Australia’s queens of ‘Six’ taking to the Theatre Royal stage. Telling the story of the six wives of Henry the VIII, this rock concert inspired musical is an international juggernaut of a hit and with seriously catchy tunes and great talents to pull them off, it is easy to tell why.
As you pull up on George Street to giant arena-concert like screens of the Queens on the front of the Theatre Royal building, and then take your seat in this gorgeous but enormous theatre, it is hard to remember that all of this started with a simple Edinburgh Fringe show back in 2017. Having just returned from the festival myself, the magnitude of this was far from lost on me - love it or not, what this show has accomplished should be given unicorn status in the modern musical theatre canon!
And love it, I do! This was my third time seeing the show and the genius of the lyrics never ceases to amaze me. I love the intricately crafted songs each styled after a different super pop star (Adele, Beyonce, Ariana, etc) and the clever meshing of these musical styles to simultaneously give each queen their own unique personality and sound, whilst still achieving a great cohesion to the show at large. The presence of the live band of all female musicians on stage is a clever and refreshing touch, made all the better by the sincere inclusion of them and their talents into the show - I cannot overstate enough how much I appreciate seeing the Artists on stage (be it in a musical, a cabaret or just a gig) give proper credit to the musicians and show a true comradery between the groups. Six does this with class!
Knowing your history about these women and their ex-husband is not a prerequisite. The show guides you through each of the women, how they came to meet Henry VIII and how their relationship ultimately ended neatly and with ease. It’s a jam packed show and, in the same way that you may leave Hamilton with a desire to learn more about 1776 America, this show certainly leaves room for you to continue to explore these women beyond the show…and that is perhaps one of the features of the show that excites this history nerd the most - this is just the beginning of the conversation when you reframe history to focus on the women - ‘herstory’ as the Queens say!
The show is set through the framework of a competition - which wife had it hardest? And yes, this means we are arguing over miscarriages, divorces, banishments and beheadings…In the hands of less talented performers this could quickly become very cringey! And if I am being honest, the book does dance the line of being just that bit too cringe but creators Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss have a refined handle on this and quickly rescue things with yet another awesome song packed into their tight 75 minute show. Again, unicorn status…to think this was written by the pair whilst studying at university…it is a marvel!
Kala Gare as Anne Boleyn is, for me, the stand out. Yes, ‘Don’t Lose Ur Head’ is unquestionably one of the best bops of the show, but Gare delivers throughout not just her solo but as back up for the others in theirs too - she is captivating to watch with an energy that just invites you in and facial expressions that make her relatable, personable and highly entertaining. I hope this is the start of lots more of Gare on our musical theatre stages.
In fact, what is exciting about this show is that really we are offered six great, strong female leads, all of whom I would love to see in more roles and soon! Phoenix Jackson Mendoza takes on Catherine of Aragorn - the Beyonce-esque Queen Bee with a certainty that she has done it toughest. She kicks off the night promising rifs and heartbreak and after hearing of a teenage girl shipped off from Spain to marry an old man, imprisoned when he died for years, then forced to marry his brother and then being threatened with a nunnery when that King was ‘over’ her…yeah, heartbreak and rifs delivered! Mendoza has a youthful presence on stage that makes her intriguing throughout - she is a beautiful performer! Loren Hunter brings Jane Seymour to life and whilst Seymour is not the easiest character to fall in love with, Hunter belts her Adele-inspired song ‘Heart of Stone’ with precision and poise. Hunter is an incredibly engaging performer to watch and stands out amongst the group as one of the strongest dancers throughout the show. On the flip side, very easy to fall in love with is Kiana Daniele as Anna of Cleves, a badass feminist who finds a life of everything that she wants…and without the man! Daniele is high energy from the get go and has the audience in the palm of her hand. Chelsea Dawson as Catherine Howard has one of my personal favourite songs of the show, ‘All You Wanna Do.’ Howard has one of the darkest storylines and songs and Dawson offers this depth with authenticity and guides the audience through her journey expertly. Finally, as Catherine Parr, Vidya Makan really delivers the vocal chops with a subtly and poise that is beautiful to watch.
Having seen multiple performances with different cast members across different cities, it is really amazing to see how the costume design continues to evolve to obviously best suit the cast members and whatever they are most comfortable in. For me, the design of the show, particularly the costume and hair design, is a stand out - it is clever, refined and perfectly colourful.
So, yes, no doubt, I love Six. That said, I must admit, this was not my favourite time seeing it. Though I absolutely love the Theatre Royal, I do feel that the theatre may just be that bit too big for the show - its intimacy is such an important trait of its success and this venue, unfortunately, cannot offer the show that same vibe. The lights were too aggressive at times - blinding the audience rather than including them in a cool ‘rock concert’ performance - they were just too much. At times, the vastness of the space made the intricacies of the lyrics hard to catch. The show is still awesome, but I was certainly glad to have seen it before!
Six is definitely a fun night out, and a great show to go to with a group of friends - theatre loving or not! The beauty of this musical is that it has far wider spread appeal than the traditional musical theatre canon. If you are seeing this particular production though, my recommendation would be to get the best seats you can - not too close because the lights are a lot! But certainly in that inner circle because intimacy is everything for this show and unfortunately, it is not easily achievable in this space.