Writer: Tim Firth
Music: Take That
Lyrics: Take That and David Pugh
Directors: Kim Gavin and Jack Ryder
Reviewer: Clare White
Britain’s most successful boyband has been selling millions of albums, winning multiple awards and enjoying record-breaking sell-out tours for the last three decades, and now Take That has branched out from arena stage to the theatre stage for new musical The Band.
Co-produced by members Gary Barlow, Mark Owen, Howard Donald and Robbie Williams, and written by Tim Firth, the show is a sentimental celebration of the band’s greatest hits, and in the last 18 months has become the fastest selling musical theatre tour in history. It also stars Five to Five, the five-piece boyband formed following Barlow’s 2017 BBC talent contest Let It Shine.
The Band, however, this isn’t the story of Take That, or of the energetic young Five to Five pups, but of five friends, for whom ‘the band’ is EVERYTHING. We first meet excitable 16-year-olds Rachel, Heather, Claire, Zoe and Debbie in 1992, when their only real worries are homework and which band member they are going to marry, until one night, a tragic event changes everything. Twenty-five years later, the friends reconnect as grown women when Rachel wins tickets to see the band’s reunion concert in Prague, taking them on a reflective journey which reminds them of the importance of their friendship.
Billed as ‘a musical love letter from Take That to their fans’, it’s a funny, nostalgic journey for anyone who was obsessed with 90s boy bands and whose bedroom walls were plastered with their posters carefully torn from Smash Hits magazine (this reviewer raises her hand). The show is full of Northern charm, wit and emotion, with a simple, yet engaging storyline set to a backdrop of Take That’s greatest hits.
Under the direction of Kim Gavin and Jack Ryder, the production flows effortlessly, it’s slick and pacey, with each act just an hour long. The choreography, also by Gavin, is energetic and dynamic, incorporating some of Take That’s recognisable 90s routines.
Chemistry between the cast is excellent. Rachel Lumberg (Rachel), Alison Fitzjohn (Claire), Emily Joyce (Heather) and Jayne McKenna (Zoe) are fabulous as the 41-something women, creating a funny, warm and relatable friendship group, and the girls playing their sassy teenage counterparts are just as impressive. Katy Clayton particularly shines as young rebel Heather and has many of the best one-liners.
The Five to Five guys AJ Bentley, Curtis Johns, Yazdan Qafouri, Nick Carsberg and Sario Solomon play ‘the band’, appearing mostly as the girls’ sub-consciousness, like a Greek chorus weaving in and out of the story. They are lively, likeable and have terrific voices.
Many of the technical team involved have worked on Take That’s arena tours, and as a result the set design is grand and inventive, transforming from a bedroom to a plane and a concert to a cliff side. Clever use of lighting and pyrotechnics add to the wow factor.
It doesn’t feel like your typical jukebox musical. Take That’s hits aren’t just shoehorned in for the sake of it, they are cleverly interlaced into the story and work really well. From A Million Love Songs and Shine, to Relight My Fire and Never Forget, the upbeat pop tunes and sweet ballads skilfully accompany the themes of fun, friendship, loss and regret. Back for Good creates a particularly poignant moment, performed as a duet between the teenage girls and their adult selves, and a moving rendition of Rule the World ensures dampening of the eyes all round.
A rousing medley followed by a standing ovation bring the show to a close. The Band is a real success – an uplifting, joyful and surprisingly emotional musical, packed full of nostalgia, fun and pop magic.
Runs Until 12 May 2018 | Image: Matt Crockett