#Tweetingit – 5***** a nostalgia-fuelled show, filled with Take That hits, and a touching, tear-jerking, comical and highly entertaining storyline about friendship, loss, and fandom – what more can you possibly want?
Firstly – this is a long review. If you get to the end, thank you for your Patience.
“Another Jukebox musical? Please no” I hear you shout. But stop right there. This is no standard jukebox musical. For starters, it is Take That, and I won’t have them being put in the same (juke)box as everyone else. Secondly, there are some writing, directing and musical powerhouses behind this show. Finally, the storyline is perfect – and I challenge anyone to not enjoy it.
The Band came about following the reality TV Show – Let It Shine where Gary Barlowe and a panel of experts looked for 5 boys to star in a new musical based on Take That Songs. Subsequently, Five to Five were born – staring AJ, Curtis, Nick, Sario and Yazdan.
There were complaints following the TV show that the audience were misled, thinking that The Band would be all about a boy band or, even more specifically, Take That, when in fact the show focuses on the friendships of a group of girls who share a favourite band. Take That could’ve been self-serving, immodest or arrogant in the creation of this musical; they could have shared what it is like to get into a boyband, how hard it is to deal with the attention and what it is like to split up and come back – but we’ve heard that story many times. Instead, we see how all of that affects the fans, what it is like to be a fan, how music can support you through good and bad times, but actually how our idols seemingly play a lead role in our lives but ultimately they’re just there in the background as life trundles on by.
The decision, therefore, not to have “the boys” in the leading role was perfect and, in fact, they didn’t even have any dialogue. They popped out of sets, or in some very very amusing moments, were the sets, to sing appropriate songs to punctuate the story.
Ok – to the story and the brilliance of those on stage. The story focuses on 5 friends , Rachel, Debbie, Claire, Zoe and Heather, whose lives revolve around Smash Hits and watching TOTP each week to see their favourite band.
After winning tickets to see them live, a promise to stay friends forever and a swapping of friendship bands, tragedy hits and everything changes. Twenty years later we see Heather get a second chance to meet the band, and who else would she invite but her friends from school who she hasn’t seen in twenty-five years? Her husband doesn’t get it, but anyone who has been a 16-year-old girl, would. As they head to Prague for a poignant reunion, revelations are revealed and friendships redevelop as they remember good times and resolve the reasons they stopped talking in the first place.
Every single actor on stage truly delivers, and it feels unreasonable to mention anyone in particular but young Rachel (Faye Christall) and adult Claire and Rachel (Alison Fitzjohn and Rachel Lumberg respectively) really stood out, while The Band themselves play their part excellently, with spot on vocals and 90s-typical dance moves. Throughout the show, there are some fun nods to early Take That videos, as well as some really ingenious set designs and interesting costumes, which echo the production and drama which fans see in Take That live shows. This is unsurprising since director Kim Gavin has worked with TT on their stadium tours. Sets included a bus which turned into a Roman carriage, an aeroplane which was easily moved around the stage to, a police station and, the best set and costumes of all, a fountain in Prague complete with “The Boys” being the statues.
When I was a teenager, we had best friend necklaces, we had silly nicknames for each other, words we used that no one else really understood, we made up dances at sleepovers, we argued, we fell out, and some of us stayed friends. When I was 13, I went to see Bon Jovi with my friend, Sarah. If Bon Jovi came back on tour to the UK, she would be the person I would go with even though we only relatively recently got back in touch having not spoken since we were 16. And Tim Firth captures all of this in his writing perfectly.
All of this sounds overly sentimental but Firth’s writing creates a fine balance between emotional and extremely funny moments all delivered with so much genuine enjoyment and tenderness that it never feels overly soppy.
With barely a drop of mascara or makeup left, and having had a good dance and sing along at the end, I left the theatre with a smile on my face. And that is why I am done with the phrase Jukebox musical. Why not use much-loved songs to create a great musical – but do it the way that The Band have. This show is truly excellent. It is a love letter to fans and a call to anyone who has been a 13-year-old girl, had friendships they promised they’d keep forever, who had a band or singer whose songs were the soundtrack to their teens or who has reminisced about what was, what could’ve been or where their old school friends are now. There is no crowbarring of songs into this show and in fact, there’s even a line taking the mickey out of the potential for that to happen. “Let’s sing a song from the gig,” suggests one of the girls. “Have the boys got a song that’s right for moments like this?” asks another, followed by a very assertive: “No.”
Ok, so maybe I am biased; the fact that this is a musical filled with Take That songs was the main draw for me. A fan of Take That from about 10, the only thing that could’ve made this better would’ve been a cameo from John Barrowman and Jason Donovan (my other childhood loves) and so maybe nothing could have gone wrong or persuaded me to give any other than 5*? Or perhaps I am more critical. If Five to Five hadn’t delivered the goods, sang even vaguely off key or the story didn’t cut it, I likely would have slashed the review score. Also, my friend who came with me is not a Take
That fan and still had a lot of fun. Clearly, a fan is going to love this all the more though.
Perhaps over 1000 words for a review is a bit much but I was trying hard to explain why this show is more than a jukebox musical, is aimed at more than just Take That fans and is not just a show for women who were once teenage girls. If you get the chance, go to see this show. Heartbreaking, funny, poignant, and filled with nostalgia – this show will certainly Shine among others of its kind. You will Never Forget it.
Writer – Tim Firth
Music – Take That
Director – Kim Gavin
Set Design – Jon Bauser
Running until Saturday 3rd March and then touring until March 2019