Six only runs for 75 minutes, but it is crammed full of bops with influences from the Spice Girls, Lily Allen, Adele and even a touch of German techno on Haus of Holbein. While the source material may be centuries old, the lyrics speak fluent millennial, with Anne Boleyn singing of her relationship on Don’t Lose Ur Head, “Everybody chill, it’s totes God’s will”.
Marlow and his co-creator Lucy Moss, both only 25, wrote the musical as students in their final year at the University of Cambridge. When conceptualising the musical they started out with three criteria. They wanted the musical to have a pop sound, they wanted to write about a famous subject matter for the pragmatic reason it would be more likely to attract an audience and they wanted a show for an all or majority female and non-binary cast. After tossing around ideas including the witches of Macbeth or more generally the women of Shakespeare, they settled on Henry VIII’s famous string of spouses.
The show has been a whirlwind success, debuting at the 2017 Edinburgh Fringe – the same festival that played a part in the rise of other such left-of-centre sensations as Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag and Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette. But it would never have happened were it not for some serendipitous penny-pinching by the Cambridge University Musical Theatre Society.
The group sent a musical each year to Edinburgh Fringe, but it was a costly affair due to purchasing rights, so in 2017 they decided to go with something original instead. “They were like, do you know what, let’s take a risk,” says Marlow. Six became a surprise hit at the festival and then a smash on London’s West End, with Marlow noting the show has proven especially popular with teenage girls and young queer people.
Six is now due to arrive on Broadway in 2020 and is set for its Australian premiere with a two-month season at the Sydney Opera House. The local cast features Chloe Zuel as Catherine of Aragon, Kala Gare as Anne Boleyn, Loren Hunter as Jane Seymour, Kiana Daniele as Anna of Cleves, Courtney Monsma as Katherine Howard and Vidya Makan as Catherine Parr.
For Marlow, Six has proven an eye-opening romp through history. “It’s funny because I wasn’t a Tudor buff. It was more we wanted to tell women’s stories, because Lucy and I had so many conversations throughout uni about how we felt there was a real lack of fun, meaty, entertaining parts for women in musical theatre. [The wives] just had the most incredible lives. The history that’s in the show is the tip of the iceberg. It was like a soap opera, all the time bonkers stuff was happening.”
Six is at Sydney Opera House from January 4 to March 5.