Review: WEP Performance Company presents Six At John Marley Centre

Review: WEP Performance Company presents Six At John Marley Centre

WEP Performance Company presents Six

The John Marley Centre, Newcastle upon Tyne

30th June 2024 – Invited

It is always an honour and a privilege to be invited along to see WEP Performance Company’s productions because I am always blown away by the amount of talent we have among the young people in our region. It is a delight to see them getting up on stage and performing their hearts out and bringing us some very challenging stories and music to spectacular effect. Follow up from their outstanding productions of Everybody’s Talking About Jamie and Les Misérables, this time it was the girls who take centre stage and they took their crowns with both hands and ran, sang, and danced with them in the immensely popular musical Six. 

Six – The Musical by Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss is a fairly recent musical staged like a pop concert and it tells the tales of Henry VIII’s six wives from their point of view. The music has shades of The Spice Girls blended with Little Mix but the lyrics offer some weighty meaning around women’s rights and how they are perceived by men. Haus of Holbein, to which I will return in due course, is particularly damning about the relentless and often ludicrous expectations forced upon girls and women even in this day and age.

I am going to name all the queens and we start, of course with Catherine of Aragon played strongly by Natalie Sibanda. As the competition to find out which queen was treated the worst starts, Catherine gets to open and Natalie graced the stage with great poise and style. Possibly the most famous of much married Henry’s wives is the scurrilous and eventually beheaded Anne Boleyn. Immy Whelam takes to the stage with my favourite song from the show ‘Don’t Lose Ur Head’ and shows Anne’s impudent side with great gusto.

History tells us that the love of Henry’s life was Jane Seymour (Matilda Spitty) this is reflected in the soulful and heart felt ‘Heart of Stone’ and it was noticeable that the audience calmed ever so slightly just to listen to Spitty with her beautiful rendition. Next up comes German Anna of Cleves played by Emily Cranston. Cranston plays this no nonsense queen who rules the roost over the King and does not put up with his antics. Of all the queens, I really enjoyed Cranston’s characterisation although I don’t think I would want to be left alone in a room with this feisty frau!

The other queen to meet a rather unpleasant end is Katherine Howard (Neve Readman). Readman gets my second favourite song in the whole musical – the rather suggestive but never coarse ‘All You Wanna Do’. Like Haus of Holbein, the detail of this ditty is in the lyrics. While upbeat and fun, there is an underlying message for our times on the futility of romance. Finally we have the Queen who survived Henry, Catherine Parr (Olivia Kelly). In the competition for which queen had it worst, Kelly was never going to come out on top (or without one).

All the Queens gave us vocals dripping with characterisation and did a superb job along with backing vocals from the very energetic and hard working Ladies-in-Waiting and Royal Vocalists. Musical Director Amy Mellor must be incredibly proud of them all and of her band of four with Emma Hughes on guitar, Nicky Rushton on Bass and Sophie Purvis keeping an energetic beat on Drums. The band and the sound balance provided by Tyne Audio was superb.  

The spectacular ways the creative team use this space which is essentially a school hall never ceases to amaze me. It is particularly appropriate that I saw this production at the same time as the Glastonbury Festival is taking place. From a visual, sound and lighting point of view, I have no doubt whatsoever that this production could be transported to one of the feature stages and definitely not look at all out of place. The direction and choreography by Mark Hedges and Kristen Spitty was outstanding throughout and really shone from the stage. This directing team did not hold back with style and some intricate moves which the whole cast performed very well indeed. The set designed and built by Tyne Audio was absolutely spot on and the lighting design by Paul Oliver was outstanding as always. I may have had a seizure at one point but apparently I was just in the Haus of Holbein – so that’s alright then!

Probably one of the most memorable parts of the professional tour of SIX which sells out wherever it goes, is the costumes. There are licensing restrictions placed on reproducing those costumes but the costume department of Mairi Kennedy, Chrissie Anderson, Tracy Affleck and Emily Baxendale pulled out all the stops of creativity and design to provide our queens with outfits that are just as, if not more memorable in this production.

Looking forward to 2025 WEP Performance Company are proudly presenting Jonathan Larson’s Rent from 21st – 24thFebruary and The Little Mermaid from 10th – 13th July and I’ll bet the entire team cannot wait to get started.

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