Director: Kim Gavin and Jack Ryder
Reviewer: Rebecca Cohen
The Band is a new production that has been created off the back of the international success of boy group Take That, and that sparked a TV search for five aspiring pop stars. Making its debut in Manchester, it is at once both fun and ridiculous, providing a real throwback to any fans of the infamous foursome Gary Barlow, Howard Donald, Mark Owen and Robbie Williams.
Starting in the 90s, complete with a Ceefax screen and a Top of the Pops snippet, this show begins with the narrative of five best friends – Rachel, Heather, Debbie, Claire and Zoe – ready to embark on their first experience of a live gig. They’re in their prime, they are rebelling, they are loving life. That is, until one of the gang dies that night, and the rest of them are no longer able to cope with each other’s company. Twenty-five years later (and this is where the cheese truly kicks in), one of the girls wins a radio competition and invites the whole group to reunite on a trip to Prague to see the boyband of their teen dreams again.
Now this is a production that takes farfetched and sensationalised plot lines to a whole new level – at times it works, at others, it doesn’t, but it’s safe to say that the music of Take That is mainly there to appease the fans, rather than provide a momentum for driving the story forwards. The boys are but the backing singers and musical interludes to the leading ladies, acting as cleaners, air hosts and statues to provide comedic, and sometimes more sombre, moments to the plot. AJ Bentley, Nick Carsberg, Curtis T Johns, Yazdan Qafouri and Sario Solomon do however execute infamous songs such as A Million Love Songs and Patience with ease, their flawless harmonies, effortless rapport and of course conventional 90s boyband moves proving why they walked away as worthy winners of the BBC competition Let It Shine.
But more than the boys, and more than the music, it is the comedic nature of the girls – both as teens and in their more mature years – that make the show enjoyable. In particular, Faye Christall and Rachel Lumburg as young and older Rachel are a joy to watch. The set, too, is a huge contributor to the spectacle of the overall production, transporting you from scene to scene with impressive digital technology.
The ridiculousness of the plot scenarios at times – the fountain scene in Act Two, for instance – can become rather cringeworthy, but the production with all its flamboyancy does have a nostalgic element to it, that many will find themselves relating to. And on the glittering press launch of this new production at Manchester Opera House, the audience were taken on an even bigger (and better) trip down memory lane, with the inclusion of Take That themselves and special guest Lulu in the finale sequence…
While ultimately this may not prove to be the greatest day of your life, this is a show that is fun and larger than life, and one that any diehard Take That fanatic will get enjoyment from. And with the announcement during the launch show of a year’s extension to the tour, there is still plenty of time to see the cast ‘shine’ as they continue to develop the production at theatres across the country…
Runs until 30 September 2017 | Image: Matt Crockett