SIX The Musical - book, lyrics and music by Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss. Originally Produced by Kenny Wax, Wendy & Andy Barnes, and George Stiles.
Produced in Australia by Louise Withers, Michael Coppel and Linda Bewick.
Canberra Theatre Centre, April 23 – May 15, 2022.
Reviewed by Frank McKone
Directed by Lucy Moss and Jamie Armitage;
Choreography by Carrie-Anne Ingrouille.
Set Design by Emma Bailey; Costume Design by Gabriella Slade;
Lighting Design by Tim Deiling; Sound Design by Paul Gatehouse.
Orchestrator: Tom Curran; Musical Supervisor: Joe Beighton
Performers (April 29):
Catherine of Aragon - Phoenix Jackson Mendoza.
Anne Boleyn - Kala Gare
Jane Seymour - Shannen Alyce Quan (Swing performing tonight in place of Loren Hunter)
Anna of Cleves - Chiara Assetta (Swing performing tonight in place of Kiana Daniele)
Katherine Howard - Chelsea Dawson
Catherine Parr - Vidya Makan
SIX band Ladies in Waiting, Music Director / Keys Claire Healey, Kathryn Stammers on Drums, Debbie Yap on Guitar and Jessica Dunn on Bass
SIX The Musical is more subtle than it first appears. It’s an entertainment full of subterfuge – that is ‘deceit used in order to achieve one's goal.’
For those with an interest in etymology, the word ‘subterfuge’ arrived in England in the 16th century, about the end of King Henry VIII’s reign, from French, or from the late Latin subterfugium, from Latin subterfugere ‘to escape secretly’, from subter- ‘beneath’ + fugere ‘to flee’.
The deceit in SIX The Musical is in two parts. The opening number is just so amazing for the set design, the music, the singing, acting and choreography – receiving whoops and whistles time and again from a full house in the main theatre – that ENTERTAINMENT PLUS seemed to be the purpose of SIX. Watching those six gutsy 29 April 2022 women acting out those six 28 January 1547 ex-wives (that’s when Henry died) was incredible FUN – LoL, as one character exclaimed.
Having won their 'Canberra' audience over (they kept calling us that to show us how terrific we are), they set us up with the second-level deceit. “How would you like to decide who was the best queen? Yes?” How could we stop clapping and say “No”? Who would dare kill the fun?
Would we vote for (as the producers’ notes describe them) the sassy Catherine of Aragon (Phoenix Jackson Mendoza); the rule-breaking second wife Anne Boleyn (Kala Gare); Shannen Alyce Quan’s loyal third wife Jane Seymour; the independent Anna of Cleves (Chiara Assetta); Chelsea Dawson’s playful fifth wife, Katherine Howard; or Vidya Makan’s empowering Catherine Parr?
This is clever writing – my academic etymological beginning is a hidden reference to the originators of SIX The Musical at Cambridge University which was founded in 1209, in competition with the even older Oxford University founded in 1096. In the 21st Century Cambridge is still well ahead, at least in comedy.
Have a read of David Stubbs’ article in The Guardian 2009 ( https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2009/jan/31/comedy-footlights-cambridge-stephen-fry ) titled Cambridge's Footlights has long been a fast track to comedy riches for a background to this show’s “early days as a student production in a 100-seat room at Sweet Venue during the 2017 Edinburgh Fringe Festival”, only to “become a global phenomenon.” I’m sure half our Canberra audience knew the songs by heart from the “Studio Album [which] has achieved in excess of 450 million streams across all platforms worldwide, over 3 billion views on TikTok and has recently reached Gold status”.
Being a pre-boomer, of course I had no idea what to expect. Though I felt genuinely affected by Quan’s sad rendition of Jane Seymour’s love for Henry, despite his bad temper, I have to say I was really pleased to have Catherine Parr, played absolutely straight by Makan, announce that “I can’t go on”. Here was the revelation of the deceit. Here was the modern woman saying it is not funny to compete with other women about who had the most miscarriages or who should win the competition for having their heads chopped off. She even made us believe, at first, in strict Brechtian theatrical distancing form, that she, Vidya Makan, would not go on playing the role. What a subterfuge! What a woman! We were fooled – but for the right purpose.
In the finale the goal of using deceit became absolutely and empoweringly clear, when the six ex-wives of Henry VIII, the most famous case of domestic violence in history (though certainly not the only case) – when the Six women sang “We are One”. Then when they – young determined 21st Century women – confidently brought the show to its proper conclusion, singing “We are Six” and had the whole audience on our feet, we knew “Six” women meant all women.
SIX The Musical is a lesson, justifiably a global phenomenon to be learned and put into practice by men and women all around the world. When you look around at the moment from Russia to Myanmar, and many countries in between, the prospects are not good. But keep singing the songs of the Dictator’s Six Wives of nearly five centuries ago, because the tune is changing with the times.
As a final personal encouragement, I should record the historical irony that despite Henry VIII’s insistence on a son to inherit his power, that son, Edward VI – whose mother Jane Seymour died only four days after his birth, perhaps of post-natal puerperal fever or perhaps of some other cause ( see Alison Weir at https://tudortimes.co.uk/guest-articles/why-did-jane-seymour-die-in-childbed ) – Edward reigned only from the age of 10 to 16. He died in 1553, to be succeeded by a woman – first Queen Mary I, and then Queen Elizabeth I, whose fame as a monarch far surpassed her father’s, and has been matched only by two other women (in British history, at least), Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth II.
The personal touch for me is that my school in England (state school, not private) – Enfield Grammar School – was founded in 1558 with the motto ‘Tant Que Je Puis’, Old French for ‘As much as I can’.
Enfield Grammar School (EGS) was officially (that is legally) founded in 1558 on the 25th May during the reign of Mary I (Mary Tudor otherwise known as 'Bloody Mary'). The year before in 1557 the princess, later Queen Elizabeth, had spent some days in Enfield in Edward VI's palace near to Enfield; with 'great pomp' she came to hunt in Enfield Chace, at that point well stocked with deer…[and] from 1558 a schoolmaster began teaching the children of Enfield's poor Latin and English 'according to the trade and use of grammar schools'.
I remain proud of that motto and the tradition of education for all which Henry VIII’s daughters encouraged – though even more ironically in a school which is still only for boys!
May The Six continue to sing as One.