Divorced, beheaded, died
Divorced, beheaded, survived
With this mnemonic, it’s easy to remember the fates of Henry VIII’s wives. If that’s all you wanna do. The musical, SIX, now playing in Melbourne, wants you to know more about these women – divorcing them all from just being the wives of one King of England.
Opening this week at the Comedy Theatre, the musical is a concert that starts off by pitting the women against each other in competition. Which of them is most remembered? Which woman suffered more than the others? Who did Henry love above all? It’s a simple, effective conceit for what began as a show at a 100-seat venue at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2017.
What comes next is an ingenious selection of songs for six divas, honouring these women and paying homage to pop music acts from the last two decades.
Much like Hamilton, playing across the road at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Six has a deliberately diverse cast on stage playing the Queens, supported by a five-piece all-female band. May more and more theatre look like this moving forward; if theatre audiences can accept watching Henry VIII’s wives as an all-girl group, we’re okay with cross-racial casting.
Catherine of Aragorn is up first with the song No Way, inspired by the real Catherine’s speech at Blackfriars to argue the legitimacy of her marriage to Henry. Sung in the style of Beyonce, performer Phoenix Jackson Mendoza got the audience amped up and on her side after the exhilarating opening number, Ex-Wives, where the ensemble explained the reason for them all being on stage together.
Next up, Kala Glare’s Anne Boleyn struts around the stage and in pure fuck-you Lily Allen style, blasts Don’t Lose Ur Head about all the trouble she had trying to be with Henry in the first place, let alone by the end.
Jane Seymour (Loren Hunter) gives us an Adele-style ballad in Heart of Stone and then Anna of Cleves pops over from Germany after sitting for her portrait at the House of Holbein. Kiana Daniele is a towering presence on stage and gets to have a lot of fun channelling Lorde and Nicki Minaj during her solo number, Get Down.
The best song of the night is All You Wanna Do, Katherine Howard’s ode to the emotional trauma of her love life – hoping the next guy who comes along will be different. It’s tough to listen to, thinking about Katherine herself, but also listening to the style of song you might hear from a teenage pop star but with lyrics that are a punch in the gut. Chelsea Dawson delivers a stand-out performance amongst a stage of stars.
Shannen Alyce Quan stepped on stage for opening night as Catherine Parr, the survivor of the six, and most determined to re-write her own history through I Don’t Need Your Love. And she’s the one that turns the conflict concert on its head.
Six is a smart show about examining the history we know and are forced to remember by rote at school and digging in deeper to find the truth. These women have fascinating stories in their own right. Being one of six is not enough recognition for them.
After premiering at Edinburgh Fringe in 2017, Six has had a meteoric rise, going on tour through the UK in 2018, opening on the West End in 2019 and springing up in Sydney and on Broadway in 2020. It will continue to tour Australia, New Zealand, the UK and the US through 2022 and beyond. Seems fitting that an all-girl group might take the world by storm, much like the inspirational pop divas the show pays homage to.
Six is the kind of show that inspires cheering fans and invites people to film the final song, MegaSix, because that’s the sort of thing that happens at concerts these days. The show knows its audience is more than just theatre fans but those who love songs that inspire cheers, tears and a standing ovation at the end and a clap-along during the encore.
This show is fun but with its smart, insightful and incisive commentary, it’s also a show with a great deal of substance. And by the time it’s over, hopefully you’ll remember more about the Six women than how they died.
Photo by James D Morgan