A witty, pop-fueled musical packed full of sass, SIX The Musical remixes the history of the six wives of Henry VIII – Britain’s notorious Tudor King – as they take to the microphone to re-tell their stories and reclaim their HERstories, once and for all. Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Anna of Cleves, Katherine Howard and Catherine Parr. Inspired by the canon of music divas Adele, Lily Allen and Ariana Grande, and with support from the SIX band Ladies in Waiting, the women transform from Tudor Queens to Pop Princesses as they tell their rebellious tales.
What’s truly unique about SIX is the show’s approach to costuming. Not only does every character have their own stunning, custom made colour-coded outfit, but each individual swing has their own costume in a unique design and colour, as well as multiple variations of skirt, shoulder pad, and pants. Each performer gets to put their own personal touch on their costume – even the band! Working on these brilliant pieces, designed by Tony Award winning Gabriella Slade, is acclaimed associate costume designer Nigel Shaw.
Nigel began designing and making costumes back in 1995. Coming from a background of dance, Nigel has the advantage over his peers. Taking all of his knowledge on movement and restriction aspects into account when designing costumes, he has an expertise which allows him to meet an individual client’s needs and create a custom garment to order, whilst possessing a talent for envisaging unique looks and creating completely original production show costumes for entire casts. Nigel is internationally renowned for his attention to detail and for incorporating elaborate hand finishing details on each and every one of his costumes, regardless of the size of the job.
How did you get into the costume industry? (training, inspiration, background, etc.)
Nigel: I was a professional performer for many years where I often snuck down to see the wardrobe dept and choose my outfit for the following weeks recordings. I then started doing shows where I was allowed to design sets of costumes that myself and the male cast would wear. I really wanted to learn how to make all these great costumes you see in movies or musicals but I had no formal training, so I hounded various Sydney costume makers around at the time to teach me the why and how things are made a certain way and I was hooked. My first inspiration designers were very much from a theatrical take rather than traditional fashion, so the likes of Terry Mugler, Bob Mackey (Cher, Elton john, Bette Midler), Alexandra McQueen and Gregg Barnes (Aladdin the musical). The more detail on a costume the better I say!
What has been the most exciting part about costuming SIX?
Nigel: This is very much two part, the first being entrusted to recreate and maintain the integrity of the original costume designs here in Australia for the UK SIX Costume designer Gabriella Slade, (whom I flew to the UK to meet and see the costumes back stage for this ‘fringe festival show’ that was just taking off.) The second part is the fact I got to make these very beautiful and detailed structured ‘armour’ style costumes. Having to find creative ways to make the costumes look like the designs and yet still allow each queen the ability move freely for the choreography, function and their comfort! So it’s a bit like a game.
How is SIX different to other shows you’ve worked on?
Nigel: I have to say because it’s a very small and intimate production, all the elements that go into this show are really finetuned, every detail can be looked at and tweaked and in some cases updated. On much larger productions they are very much cut and paste from the design/make process. On SIX, the queens are given their own personal touches, ie their hair styles and crowns. Even the ladies-in-waiting get to be seen for the whole show and wear a very different ‘band’ look with their very own studded boot design!
What is something that people may not realise about the costumes on the show?
Nigel: Just how structured the costumes really are!, there are up to 9 PVC layers thick for some pieces with the trims and studs added on top of that again.. each bodice can literally stand up on their own, fun fact, every single stud, spike and stone used has been individually glued on… over 700 studs alone are on Parr’s leggings, and each pair of the Queen’s boots has over a thousand stones and takes 1 week to do each pattern.
SIX gives all cast members their own unique costumes, swings included. Why do you think this is an important addition?
Nigel: This really starts from day one in rehearsal, each queen gets to find their own inner queen style based on how they feel in their own design. Each costume adds a certain strength and style, and that makes each performer make that character their own, for example Katherine Howard has a more teenage feel with her crop top and skirt which helps portray her youthful character , yet you have Cleves in a very power strong angled bolero jacket for her take-no-prisoners feel. Even the orange swing has her own look that allows her to swing on for any role and still portray each queen in her own way.
Do you have a favourite costume piece out of all the queens?
Nigel: This is really like asking which child is your favourite… I really do love each of Gabriella’s designs.. However there are elements of each costume I love for example Aragon’s sleeves, Boleyn’s fluted Skirt, Seymour’s corset, Cleves shorts, Howard’s crop top and Parr’s leggings.. these really add dimensions to both the story and that queen.
SIX The Musical is playing now at Melbourne’s Comedy Theatre.
For tickets and more information, visit www.sixthemusical.com/australia
Header image credit: James D. Morgan