Book: Tim Firth
Music: Take That
Director: Kim Gavin & Jack Ryder
Reviewer: John Roberts
It wasn’t going to be long considering the trend in Jukebox musicals, that one should be written using Take That’s back catalogue, and what better way to do it than to co-produce it yourself. Alongside David Pugh and Dafydd Rogers the unstoppable boyband have once again hit gold judging by the audience reaction at the Liverpool Empire on press night.
One has to admit that expectations were low going into The Band, many jukebox musicals leave the book and storyline behind for shoehorned music, however writer Tim Firth has woven a tight script around a simple premise of schoolgirl crushes and the pains of love and loss across a narrative that spans over 25 years – the simplicity of the narrative means that we can really connect with the girls, and it can’t be denied that even a few tears were shed by this soft-sided reviewer.
Directors Kim Gavin and Jack Ryder ensure the production is as slick and sharp as possible which is helped by a clever set design by Jon Bausor, alongside a lighting design from Patrick Woodroffe we can be on a hilltop outside Manchester one moment and in the midst of a concert the next and that’s one of The Band’s strongest points, it realises that most people are there to hear the music of Take That, but it doesn’t detract from a story that wears its heart on its sleeve and makes its message about the fragility of life and making sure you live every moment as fully as possible, loud and clear.
As the younger group of friends Faye Christall (Rachel), Debbie (Rachelle Diedericks), Heather (Katy Clayton), Claire (Sarah Kate Howarth) and Zoe (Lauren Jacobs) show great chemistry on stage together – with strong performances coming from Christall as the larger than life Rachel and Diedericks as her dance loving best friend. It’s not until the end of the first half that we are really introduced to the adult versions and like their younger counterparts are equally as tight Emily Joyce is divine as the Older Heather and Jayne McKenna brings a much more complete portrayal of the book-loving Zoe. Alison Fitzjohn strikes a powerful chord as Claire and Rachel Lumberg as the older Rachel really pulls everything together brilliantly. Martin Miller also gains audience approval as the more than lovable Jeff.
But what about the boys that make up the fictitious The Band? Well sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind, while they may have shot to fame by winning the BBC show Let It Shine, it’s evident from that show and their stage presence that acting and dance ability wasn’t really tested… Yes, as a group they have some tight harmonies but when left to sing solo lines they are a little weak, likewise during dance routines the boys look a little mechanical and tense, but in reality, this isn’t really about them – this is about the girls and their relationship with themselves and each other.
The Band is a much stronger show than you would perhaps have expected and much of that is down to Firth’s writing and an excellent cast, alongside slick direction, even the slightly emotionally manipulative ending can be forgiven when an evening at the theatre can be this much fun. The Band knows what it is and where its place in the musical theatre world is, it doesn’t outstay its welcome and it wears its heart firmly on its sleeve and it’s more the better for it.
Runs until 3 February 2018 | Image: Matt Crockett