What you may or may not know about Henry VIII and his ways is not important. Chances are you will know even less about the five women and one girl who were married to the monarch. Often reduced to the rhyme: ‘Divorced, beheaded, died – divorced, beheaded, survived’, the renowned musical SIX by Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss focuses on history's flawed omissions. SIX is rhapsodic and grandiose, with strong story, music and fabulous costumery.
Time might have forgotten them but this stage performance reminds us the wives were all once very much alive. They had stories to tell, secrets to whisper. Before they were royalty they dreamt of how it would be, just as you and I would have done.
The magic of this show is that the brutality and injustice of this oft-repeated history is never hidden but you also don’t feel its full force until after you leave the theatre. It is like sour candy. You sense it’s there, but it looks so brilliant, the taste is irrelevant until you peel back the wrapper and the full force of nose-wrinkling sourness hits home.
SIX grants us the pleasure of watching Phoenix Jackson Mendoza, Kala Gare, Loren Hunter, Kiana Daniele, Chelsea Dawson and Vidya Makan, sing and dance while the discomfort of the message slowly sinks in. The cast is brilliant. Their voices are strong and their stage presence formidable.
Moss and Marlow created musical numbers that share the untold stories of the six women. Each song got its “Queensipration” from female artists who are powerhouses in the recording industry. With lyrics that hook you, ballads that move you and the extraordinary number, Haus of Holbein, a German electronic track with glow-in-the-dark neck ruffles; SIX has got it all. And here we recognise the musical talents of the band. Claire Healy, Heidi Maguire, Katheryn Stammers, Debbie Yap, Jessica Dun and Ann Metry. Six women rocking it out, bringing the songs to life and performing without fault.
I wish each of the Queens was able to see the costumes that Gabriella Slade created for them. The collage of textures, the thought that went into honouring the past and flipping the bird to the patriarchy that forgot them. The high waists matched with bare skin, puffy sleeves and glitter short shorts, extraordinary attention to detail and beading that accentuates the physical body of womankind, hairy armpits, tiaras and crowns. I can’t help but think they would have loved not just the time, effort and thought that went into these costumes but also the playful strong women who were representing them over 500 years later.
History might be a fickle mistress but not so the wives of Henry VIII. SIX is not to be missed but I must now go and start reading as I have some history to catch up on as these women are worth knowing.
Louise Withers, Michael Coppel and Linda Bewick
SIX the Musical
by Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss
Directors Lucy Moss and Tony Armitage
Venue: Theatre Royal Sydney
Dates: playing until 1 October 2022