Creators: Gary Barlow and Tim Firth
Co-Director: Seimi Campbell
Gary Barlow’s one-man-show may delight and frustrate Take That fans in equal measures. This is no gig, and so those expecting renditions of the boy band’s greatest hits will be disappointed. But those who want to hear details about Barlow’s rise and fall and rise again will be pleased with A Different Stage’s theatricality. Barlow is a surprisingly good actor.
Coming in stage wearing a red Adidas top and sporting a stylish quiff, Barlow looks more like his nemesis Robbie Williams than ever. And a young Robbie at that. It’s hard to believe that Barlow is 51. He scampers around the stage crammed with touring trunks for a full two hours, and is full of wholesome optimism like a man half his age. He never misses a word of his tightly scripted lines.
But it’s this professionalism that is the show’s major problem. He delivers all his lines in the same bouncy manner. Every high and every low is presented in the same way whether Barlow is recounting his early days playing the organ in working men’s clubs or whether he is describing his depression which kicked in after his solo career stalled while Robbie zoomed up the charts. The jaunty way in which he relates his battle with bulimia doesn’t reveal the eating disorder’s real horrors.
Of course, following a script allows Barlow to remain distant from some of the other personal tragedies that he discusses like the death of his father. If he were to extemporise these sections, his emotions might get the better of him. A script keeps him objective, and some of his revelations must be extremely difficult to talk about. However, this means that the cheerful, affable Barlow we see on stage remains a character.
We see none of that spikiness that came out when Barlow was head judge on the X-Factor for three years, a career move that is never mentioned in his one-man-show, and he neatly, rather too neatly, sidesteps the controversy that erupted when the papers revealed in 2012 that he was avoiding paying tax. The Barlow presented on stage is a carefully curated one.
But A Different Stage is still a good show, and Barlow’s charm, good looks and immaculate singing voice with the trademark falsetto phases ensure that his autobiographical play will do well during its London residency. And he is genuinely funny in some parts, like when he performs a medley of songs that he used to play down the British Legion. And you can almost forgive him anything when he sings, finally, Never Forget.
Runs until 25 September 2022 and then continues to tour