The Band - Musical Theatre Review

Anyone who grew up in the Nineties will likely have, at the very least, some memories of Take That, whether of love, hatred or indifference. As an East 17 fan, they seemed pretty bland by comparison(!) but the memories of friends shedding tears when they split up remain strong. Later, we wound up our last night at university by all merrily shouting the lyrics to ‘Never Forget’ at the top of our lungs. Love them or loathe them, their music has been a bit of a cultural mainstay over the years.

And so it follows, inevitably, that we now have a new musical that contains all the ‘smash hits’ (sorry) of Take That’s long career. Refreshingly though, this story doesn’t focus on the band themselves but instead on the lives of four women who spend their teen years obsessed with a popular boy band – simply referred to as ‘The Boys’ or ‘The Band’ throughout. Twenty-five years later having lost touch, they come together to see the band’s reunion tour in Prague.

It’s wonderful to have a musical that is so centred around strong female friendships, and it makes for a touching, if somewhat predictable, story. Nice too that we have a large, predominantly female cast with the young girls being played by a separate cast in Act One and an older cast picking up each character in Act Two. Perhaps even more unusual, ‘The Boys’ don’t get to say a word throughout the whole show! Take That’s music is used to convey their thoughts and underscore the moments of these women’s lives. The women come first in this piece, which is important.

There’s some enjoyable work from Katy Clayton as Young Heather and the bouncy Rachelle Diedericks as Debbie, but there are a few moments where it seems the younger cast aren’t quite listening and connecting to each other as much as they might. There’s a better vibe between the friends in Act Two, particularly from Emily Joyce as Heather and Rachel Lumberg as Rachel. Andy Williams also has a lot of fun with playing Every Dave (from roadie, to bus driver, to Czech policeman!) The script does sometimes let the cast down and the story is a bit overwrought and implausible in places. But there are moments of real tenderness too – particularly when the older women sing ‘Back For Good’ to their younger counterparts.

The nostalgia factor is high throughout with Ceefax playing on a giant television pre-show, the Top of the Pops theme blasting out, and a trip down memory lane where every cobble stone is a recognisable Take That video or costume. The set uses some clever projection mapping and nifty set pieces to create some nice mise-en-scène, notably a very jazzy budget aeroplane and an enjoyable scene set in a fountain. The choreography (Kim Gavin) is well delivered by ‘The Band’ and the concert scenes are carefully realised and just as ‘put together’ as a real pop concert experience.

Although a somewhat weak story that drags a little, this is going to be a great night out if you love Take That, grew up in the 90s, or go with a big group of girls for a giggle – even better if you can say yes to all three! Is this going to be a hardy musical favourite that marches on for years? It’s probably not that likely, but with a fun selection of Take That classics and it’s infectious ‘be yourself’ mantra this is sure to please a lot of fans.

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