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Brighton Year-Round 2021

Low Down

Directed by Co-writer Lucy Moss  and Jamie Armitage, Choreographer Carrie-Anne Ingrouille, Set Designer Emma Bailey, Costume Designer Gabriella Slade, Lighting Design Tom Deiling, Sound Design Paul Gatehouse, Orchestrator Tom Curran, Musical Supervisor Joe Beighton, Costumer Supervisor Justin Allin, Hair and Make-Up Supervisor Sam Cox.

Associate Directors Fanny Anne Rafferty and Grace Taylor, Associate Choreographer Freya Sands and Melody Sinclair. Associate Sound Design Charlie Smith, Associate Lighting Design Jamie Platt, Associate Costume Design Laura Rushton. UK Musical Supervisor Katy Richardson, Associate Hair and Make-Up Supervisor Lauren Appleby, Associate Musical Director Lauren Hopkinson, Trainee Residential Chorographer Nicole Bondzie.

Production Manager Felix Davies, CSM Alexa Penny, DSM Lisa Masson ASM Fiona Davis, Production LX Andy Murrell, LX 1 & Relighter Alex Hopkins, Sound I Gemma Johnstone, Sound 2 Monty Evans, Tech Swing Anthony Hannah, Head Wardrobe Sophie Wilson, Head of Wig/Make-Up Anna Hilary, Wardrobe and Wigs Assistant Ashleigh Gill.

Till August 7th and touring.


Starts with a number, starts with an acronym. Depends how far back you go and either way it’s raunchy.  How’s Divorced Beheaded Died Divorced Beheaded Survived get to Sorry Not Sorry? That’s Wife No. 2 so guess what? Even better, you can buy the merch shirts with either logo as you troop in.

Six wives cut loose with most of their heads uncut and form the first 16th century Desperate Queens Girl Band. Six finally storms Theatre Royal and some of us can redeem our tickets from March last year! Pity about the big bloke with erectile dysfunction. Don’t worry. He’s not coming.

What is coming is six wondrous soloists (and four terrific women instrumentalists), every one memorable but who blend seamlessly above all as an ensemble with breath-taking vocals and choreography, a show with six or seven hits in 80 minutes. There’s three or four you won’t forget. And the lyrics? OK rewind.

So Cambridge students composer/writer Toby Marlow and writer/director Lucy Moss push around ideas for a 2017 Ed Fringe Show at CUMTS (Cambridge University Musical and Theatre Society – making it up? In my day it was just snooty CUMS which sounded rude hence CUMTS, so that worked!).

It’s superbly-worked, a fun manifesto for the #MeToo generation though conceived just before that moment, unapologetic for its revisionist takes and overt feminism (we get a wittily sophisticated jibe of five words, all we need to kick sexism out of Six). How would these queens tell their story now? How would they think now? And all together in the same room? And all at once?

The rest you know. Unless you’re ‘cancelled’ historian David Starkey famous for such immortal TV scholarship as ‘Catherine Howard… was bored out of her tiny mind.’ He’s not coming either but the surprising thing is, the history’s straight with a twist (Moss read History). Well you already know Holbein Haus is the 16th century’s answer to Weimar Cabaret’s Post-Punk Kraftwerk. Renaissance man Holbein‘s got some serious painting tricks with swipe left/right (yes, he did pioneer tromps d’oeuil).

More you look, more you see how clever as well as absolutely naggingly Six is the most memorable West End show to hit us since – when exactly? Don’t even say Once six times.

The powerhouse wives for this matinee are Lauren Drew (Catherine of Aragon), Sekinah McFarlane (Anna Cleeves), both in the original production as was Jennifer Caldwell who’s again alternate for Anne Boleyn, joined by Caitlin Tipping (Jane Seymour) Vicki Manser (Katherine Howard), and Elena Gyasi (Catherine Parr).

Ladies In Waiting sorry musicians are Musical Director/Keys Sarah Burrell, Drums Vanessa Dominique, Guitar Frankie South, Bass Kat Bax.

Premise is simple. Turn the six wives of that Tudor thingy into a mutually supportive inevitably competitive girl band, with fall-out narratives on cue as they ask Brighton who had the worst time of it? Not so much artistic differences – who has the edge – as who got most edge? And no beheading doesn’t give you a head start.

The infectious open number (later morphs) ‘Ex-Wives’ has a jaggedly memorable ‘This Is Me’ feel, but with a melodic profile that leaps through the opening phrase. It’s punchy and it comes back. And where’s that quote ‘really really want’ coming from?

Then there’s the line-up. Catherine of Aragon nearly went to a nunnery but marries overseas the younger brother of the man she was going to wed (called Arthur, all historical Prince Arthurs inherit royal bad luck) who died. Lucky Brother No. 2 is pretty fit. They have a baby girl. But after 23 years Catherine gets ousted.

Lauren Drew struts out in this assertive high-stepping number ‘No Way’ where she won’t step aside for a cuter younger queen with boy-giving potential. Drew’s memorable with a voice strong on Welsh lead-girl power. There’s a pattern here too in the way the songs are constructed, going back to that famous refrain.

So next it’s the raunch number, with northern-voiced Jennifer Caldwell with a slinky high-energy routine ‘Don’t Lose Ur head’ with sly wit and seductive storytelling, ‘Sorry Not Sorry’. Caldwell too knows this in her dreams and delivers a smouldering manifesto. Trouble is Anne fails in one boy-giving way but succeeds all too well elsewhere, at least the man whom she gives back ‘can’t get it up’ thinks so. Doesn’t end well for northern rock either. Even if you ping a high C. ‘Lovely neck’ smarms another queen later.

Contrast comes lento maestoso with Jane Seymour’s loyalty and show-stopping ‘Heart of Stone’ with Caitlin Tipping’s soaring soprano line and slow-burn love-song. She gets or begets the boy too. That doesn’t help her. But he loved her so that’s OK.

Because it’s half-way and because we’ve got an excuse to boost the least-celebrated of the queens (though there’s a rival here) the queens all deliver that ‘Haus of Holbein’ routine mentioned above, sounding post-Weimar cabaret post-punk and echt-Krafwerked to death. Real show-stopper, again structurally mirroring the ensemble numbers at each end. There’s enormous fun as various Holbein-profile-pictured queens get swiped left; helps they’ve decided against anyway, then Anna gets the right space. Oops.

Sekinah McFarlane’s Anna Cleeves kicks in with ‘Get Down’ with in-yer-face routines ‘I’m queen of the castle’ – well in Richmond – as she gets a front-seat man to dance with her, celebrating her release from vows and more money than she knows what to do with. Tragic really. McFarlane’s the comedy gem here, graunchy alto voice right from the get-go badinage: ‘Can I have a B flat major diminished seventh?’ and personality to match in a role she’s long made her own.  Structurally she echoes Drew’s assertive Catherine but twisted funny.

Vicki Manser’s fresh Katherine Howard twins with Anne Boleyn – sexy so seen as a threat. Doesn’t end well. She’s even younger than her ill-fated predecessor full of ‘All You Wanna Do’ having started at thirteen and always hoping to find Mr Right or the guy who can do it right. So marrying Mr Wrong – who’s in an even worse state than when with Anne – sets her to Thomas and the others with suggestive sassy lyrics. Manser conveys a teen – burgeoning with light soprano ecstasies – just wanting to have fun, and so terminally disappointed.

So why vote for Elena Gyasi’s Catherine Parr? She survived. Tempo again slows twinned with Seymour, as we’re told this highly literate woman – who believed in women’s education, published books, lessons, poems, even lay (not that kind!) sermons – was after being twice-widowed also in love. With Thomas Seymour. Husband No. 3 turns out a bit different (spoiler: Thomas becomes Husband No. 4).

First Gyasi’s colloquial, talks to us, the show beautifully halts. It’s the crisis-point as queens wrangle. Then Gyasi’s delivery slows into  a rising passionate arc: ‘I Don’t Need Your Love’ directed first at Thomas, which we don’t believe, then elsewhere, which we do. Again we’re treated to an exposed soprano voice full of elegiac lyricism that can rise effortlessly, anywhere.

Then that edgy  opener remixed as ‘Six’ with the best lyrics as the queens ensemble belt out their high-kicking sisterhood, followed by ‘Megasix’ just as you thought it’s wind-down. This all takes about ten minutes, and you feel from Ed Fringe to Broadway grow an absolute cert in the interval.

It’s invidious to pick out Welsh-rule, northern divas, English rose lyrical balladeers,  faux-German alto farceurs,  queen-teen dreamers or nailingly consummate sopranos. The original cast members have natural edge but I can’t see anyone else in the three new roles detailing finer performances. They’re a superb ensemble. End of.

Directed by Co-writer Lucy Moss (youngest woman to direct on Broadway!) and Jamie Armitage, Carrie-Anne Ingrouille’s choreography manages stunningly intricate moves in such a small space, with variety and pace; meaning the show tours everywhere in quite a shallow stage.

So Set Designer Emma Bailey enjoys a dance-floor with a sun in the middle and a superb stained-glass effect with Tom Deiling’s lighting doing wonderful things including fluorescent and blue/lime green neon effects in the ‘Haus’ number, where the light too shines down on a crown effect. At the end ‘Six’ spells out in the Tudor diamond-shaped light.

Costume designer Gabriella Slade provides period quotes of ruffs and stiff dresses blent with band gear and little psychedelic frills. Orchestrator Tom Curran does some amazing things including techno-harpsichord effects for keyboard-player Burrell (inventing the terpsichord or a harpsichord that dances) with punchy effects distributed around the four band members. Sound design by Paul Gatehouse bigs this to Broadway.

Everything in this non-stop high-energy Liliputian-sized show blazes with conviction. Its compactness is its secret. Nothing lags, all the songs soar, when it tells it tells, when it stops it stops, with a single reprise.

So you’ll get this is outstanding, the finest West End musical for years. Only fresh musicals like Brighton’s Clean which haven’t yet made it there, can compare. And Six is unique – nothing can challenge its popularity and edge as a pocket-sized masterpiece. That ensures its perpetual revival. There’ll never be anything like it, even from Marlow and Moss, whose Gay Time Machine sounds a must-hear for Brighton. Again. See Six, queue for returns. With masks and a covid test.