The Band – Orchard Theatre, Dartford

Writer: Tim Firth

Director: Kim Gavin and Jack Ryder

Music: Take That

Reviewer: Dan English

There’s nineties nostalgia aplenty in The Band, the triumphant new musical, which combines the pen of Tim Firth and the songs of Take That, putting every punter of a certain age back in the midst of their pop band obsession.

It’s a feeling we’re all familiar with. We hear a song on the radio that transports us back to a time when we were growing up, and we’re left wondering about what ever happened to that school friend who we spent many an evening learning the Top of the Pops routine or singing the Top 40 with, or that group whose album we played over and over again and that dominated our teenage years. It’s this feeling that The Bandcaptures, following four formerly inseparable women who, having idolised a boyband as they grew up, are reunited in an emotional journey to try and meet ‘The Band’ 25 years later.

There’s a lot of pressure on the cast of a show which boasts that it’s the ‘fastest selling musical theatre tour of all time’, yet what could have been a burden is shrugged off with ease by a talented and versatile company.

The four friends, divided by tragedy but later reunited, are expertly portrayed by Rachel Lumberg, Alison Fitzjohn, Emily Joyce and Jayne McKenna (Rachel, Claire, Heather and Zoe respectively). The quartet bring a warmth to the roles but maintain a youthful excitement about seeing a band which dominated their youth. There’s a fantastic awkwardness between them as their characters reconnect following a brutal tragedy in their school days, but their performance in the closing number of Act One is empowered and deserves the rousing reception it gets. Indeed, the quartet are magnificent across the whole production, and the uniqueness and believability of their reigniting friendship leaves the audience not only with smiles on their faces but lumps in their throats too, evoked beautifully by a stunning tableau at the end of the final act.

The Bandis a production that focuses heavily on flashbacks, with Firth’s script offering a considerable amount of time to investigate the quarter’s formative teenage years. Faye Christall, Sarah Kate Howarth, Katy Clayton and Lauren Jacobs are all terrifically energetic as the quartet’s younger selves, capturing the excitement of teenage angst and passions for the latest fashion and music crazes effectively. In addition, there is a standout performance from Rachelle Diedericks, who plays Debbie, a character who both unites and divides the four friends across the production. The enthusiasm of Diedericks’ character encapsulates the excitement of teenage life perfectly, and her role leaves a lasting impression on this piece.

Musicals which incorporate popular music can often struggle when it comes to embedding the soundtrack without forcing it awkwardly. It an impressive feat, therefore, that this production allows for Take That’s music to seamlessly drift in and out of the piece’s, and the characters’, consciousness. Each song fits each moment perfectly, and attention has been paid to match song and moment effectively. Known simply as ‘The Band’ in this, the five-piece, played by AJ Bentley, Nick Carsberg, Curtis T Jones, Yazdan Qafouri and Sario Solomon, collaborate well in presenting both original and reworked versions of Take That’s back catalogue. By naming them as simply ‘The Band’, it prevents the piece from becoming a Take That jukebox musical, and, uniquely, it invites audience members to reflect on other bands they might have felt as passionately about, to enable them to empathise with the characters.

What is unique about this piece is that, regardless of the bands you might have idolised when you were younger, it taps into that excitement and joy that a bond between artist and audience, or between friends, can bring.

This is a fresh, female-driven, feel-good production that captures wonderfully the anxieties, the loves and the passions of teenage life, and emphasises the importance of those bonds that tie people together and the necessity to hold onto them. This is as good, and as powerful, as musical theatre can get.

Runs until Saturday 9 February 2019 | Image: Matt Crockett

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