Published Sunday, 16th January 2022
By Keira Edwards
Packed with witty comments, cleverly written songs and complete with history lesson unlike any other, Six the Musical has it all.
This week I was lucky enough to finally see the touring production of Six at the Theatre Royal, Newcastle. This was the show I was supposed to see in 2020 before it was cancelled due to the Covid pandemic. Six is a British musical written by Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss when they were still studying in university for the university's musical society slot in the Edinburgh Fringe festival. Themed around a pop concert and feminine power as well as drawing influence from multiple female pop icons such as Beyoncé, Nicki Minaj and Adele is something that makes Six a musical unique to itself.
Breaking from traditional musical conventions such as the live orchestra, Six replaces them with an all female, four piece live band, known as the Ladies in Waiting. The touring band consisted of Jenny Deacon on keyboard, Vanessa Domonique on drums, Frankie South on guitar and Kat Bax on bass. Keeping the band as all female allowed Six to further it's message carried throughout about the power of women. However, Six goes one step further by giving the band their own moments in the spotlight throughout the show, asking them to play a riff on the drums or a chord on the keyboard. I enjoyed getting multiple chances to appreciate the band and not just focusing on the main cast and waiting for the end of the show for them to be acknowledged. This allowed the songs to be neatly woven into the show with band playing opening sections whilst the dialogue was still continuing, creating a smooth transition.
Credit: Newcastle Theatre Royal
That wasn't the only thing different in Six. The other main difference, made pretty clear by the title, was it's performing cast size and you guessed it, six. With there only being the six queens, band and three understudies making up the whole cast, it meant no big choral numbers or a constant move of background characters creating atmosphere. Everything revolved around the six queens. That wasn't a bad thing, it actually made it easy to focus on what was going on and there were fewer people to work out who was who and more chance to connect with each character.
Before the show even started, the scene was already set. Music was playing in the background as everyone took their seats, but it wasn't just regular music you'd expect to here before a show starts. It was harpsicord covers of well known pop songs, some of the ones I could pick out were Chandelier by Sia, Crazy in Love by Beyoncé and Bad Romance by Madonna. This was an interesting way of preparing the audience of what was to come with the combination of old and new music into singular tracks.
Unlike traditional musicals, the start of Six was not like anything I'd ever experienced before. The moment the curtains opened and the six queens stepped out, the crowd erupted into to cheers as if they were at a concert. These cheers were heard after every song and you could see in the actors performance the joy this brought to them and how much fun they were having.
Because each of the wives songs was inspired by a different pop sensation, no song ever sounded similar. They went from ballads to upbeat pop and finally to a Europop song to create a break between the first and last three solos. The staging of every song reflected these styles from a white spotlight to rainbow lights with fast choreography and always captured the dramatic story each queen was trying to tell.
The lyrics themselves were on a whole other level. Every line seemingly carefully written, to evoke laughter or sadness and managing to encompass each marriage in the space of 4 minutes. These lyrics didn't just give a history lesson, they also gave each of the characters a personality. Were they the ones with the witty and comical lyrics or were they more solemn and gentle? This set the tone for each character and all the actors fantastically portrayed each one of them.
I watched Six on the second night of its run, but didn't see the full main cast due to an understudy playing Anna of Cleves. The understudies, instead of being hidden behind the same costume as the character they're replacing are given their own unique costume, setting them apart from the original actor. The main Anna of Cleves wears a pink and black costume, but the understudy was in silver and black with a different outfit style. I enjoyed being able to see the presence of an understudy, Six allows them their own chance to shine without being overshadowed by the main actor. As the understudy covers for two different characters, they have an extremely difficult jobs of having to know two sets of highly complex dance routines. However, Cassandra Lee performed amazingly as Anna of Cleves.
The rest of the Six cast performing were Lauren Drew as Catherine of Aragon, Maddison Bulleyment as Anne Boleyn, Caitlin Tipping as Jane Seymour, Vicki Manser as Katherine Howard and Elèna Gyasi as Catherine Parr. It was amazing to see such diversity within a small cast bringing together women of all different ethic backgrounds and inserting them seamlessly into the show, emphasising the real inclusivity and empowering nature of Six. Not only this, but the all female cast and band gave opportunities to the actors and musicians to highlight the talent that women in the arts have.
Six ended on high, with a medley of all the six solo songs heard throughout the evening, known as the 'Megasix.' The actors get the crowd on their feet and tell them to get their phones out to film the very last song, which is something I've only seen done by modern musicals and provides a fantastic memento of the evening.
I had very high expectations for Six before seeing it, based on the reviews I'd heard and having listened to soundtrack multiple times and it did not let me down. I got a chance, which has been hard to come by in a pandemic, to laugh but to also sit in a theatre, relax and enjoy a show.