A theatrical phenomenon and worldwide hit, this musical by Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss goes from strength to strength. OK, I didn’t see the premiere at the Edinburgh Festival, but I did rave about its take on history and its excellent songs as soon as it got to London. Now, new cast members take on the crowns of Henry VIII’s wives to tell their story in inimitable style.
The show uses our knowledge that the queens were variously divorced and beheaded or died, but imagines them reunited as a pop group. How’s that for an excuse for great songs and a fantastic atmosphere! With modern sensibilities and humour (the lyrics and script are very funny) a mock competition sets the queens against one another.
It isn’t really a contest – that turns out to be an important point. And one of the show’s many joys is to see the ensemble work so well together while pretending to pit themselves against each other. This six are a great group – sharing emotion and, above all, fun. Despite them working in harmony musically, we still get six distinct characters, which is also important: Six is about the women rather than the man they were married to.
In chronological order, there is a lot of praise to bestow. Rhianne-Louise McCaulsky plays the first wife, Catherine of Aragon, and sounds amazing. Baylie Carson takes the part of Anne Boleyn and proves to be the show’s clown, getting a laugh with every line. There’s Jane Seymour’s ballad next, belted out by Claudia Kariukias in fine style. Dionne Ward-Anderson is Anna of Cleves – a commanding role that whips up the crowd. Koko Basigara as Katherine Howard has (arguably) the best number, ‘All You Wanna Do’, which showcases Marlow and Moss’s talents superbly. Finally, Roxanne Couch’s Catherine Parr guides much of the action and sounds superb.
There can be no higher praise than to say this cast does Six justice – the show really is that good. While the direction from Moss and Jamie Armitage is robust, and the choreography from Carrie-Anne Ingrouille strong, the performers bring high energy and strong comedy skills that prove a clear appreciation of the show’s intelligent humour. Six is my go-to recommendation not just for those who love musicals but anyone who likes a good show. Long may these queens reign on the Strand.
headline show of this venue’s Queer Season, this is an evening of two one-act
plays by Tennessee Williams. While celebrating their iconic writer, the
programme is a triumph for promoting its director, Jamie Armitage. Williams
isn’t easy to control, putting directors under a glaring spotlight, but Armitage
turns that around to examine the author himself.
First up is Something Unspoken, easily seen as classic Williams territory. A grand dame of the American South and her long-standing secretary are a couple skirting around their unacknowledged intimacy, with pathos and humour, that makes a riveting confrontation. Annabel Leventon takes the lead as the wealthy Cornelia Scott and excels with the acid one-liners. Fiona Marr is moving as the companion for this formidable matron, a timid figure next to her iron lady. The sentiment and silence that prove so fecund for Williams are balanced perfectly by Armitage. The high quality is evident in its subplot, the election for presidency of the Daughters of the Confederacy – easily dismissed as a joke, both actresses parallel the tension in their relationship with Scott’s failure to secure the position.
And Tell Sad Stories of the Deaths of Queens is the more notable piece. We’re told it’s the only
work in the Williams canon to contain openly gay characters. Armitage has
secured similarly strong performances, with Luke Mullins performing as Candy, a
transvestite who pursues a straight sailor, played by George Fletcher. It’s
undoubtedly fascinating, but there is a marked drop in standard. Candy is too
much the focus of the writing, which might be forgiven if it didn’t make the piece
slow, repetitive and predictable. A pathetic figure in the true meaning of the
word, Mullins manages – against the odds – to carve out some dignity for the
character. But there is little tension in the piece, despite it being more
action packed, as Williams’ own self-loathing clouds his judgement.
a trade off with this second short – a balance between theatre history, its
potential as a documentary of sorts and the author’s biography and bias – that
make it interesting to watch rather than enjoyable. But, on the whole, the
plays complement one another nicely. They illustrate a past experience of
lesbian and gay life. But they also present us with the author as we know him
and then offer new insight into his writing. Showing Williams both in control and
then with a degree of abandon makes this a treat for his fans.