Touring: Royal & Derngate Theatre, Northampton
Tim Firth must be the only man alive who understands the emotional and physical turmoil teenage girls go through during their boy band years. He’s written The Band – now on UK tour – a new musical that uses the songs of Take That to tell the story of friendship and devotion, and he gets it so right.
Husbands, partners, boyfriends and male critics may scoff but worshipping, to the point of obsession, a group of young handsome lads who can sing and dance a bit is something every girl struggling with hormones, school, first boyfriends, and life recognises.
We’ve all been there and done that. With me, showing my age, it was David Cassidy and The Osmonds. With my eldest daughter it was Take That. The walls of her bedroom were covered in posters, she had the Take That duvet set, school stationery, T-shirts and pyjamas, all the albums (of course), the concert tickets, videos… Gary Barlow cost us a small fortune when he fought a life and death battle with cancer. I never knew vet’s fees could be so high for surgery on a hamster.
So I understand the puppy love of Rachel, and her friends Claire, Heather, Debs and Zoe, a group of 16-year-old Northern girls, who want desperately to see their idols in the flesh and are unable to shake off their infatuation, even after 25 years. The Band is a musical fantasy that is not only hugely entertaining but also speaks to the thousands of women who have packed theatres around the country hoping to relive a little of their youth.
The Derngate auditorium was at capacity on opening night with Take That fans who sang along to the songs, whipped out their torches for the finale and got up and danced. Firth – and producers David Pugh, Dafydd Rogers plus Gary, Howard, Robbie and Mark – could have ditched the musical completely and just staged a TT tribute night. It would have saved them a fortune.
The show is heart-warming, emotional, funny and feelgood. Most of the time you don’t know whether to laugh or cry and you’ll probably end up doing both at the same time.
On stage to provide the vocals to TT’s glorious back catalogue are Five To Five, the winners of Let It Shine, a 2017 reality TV show that plucked five lads from obscurity and cast them in the role of The Band in the musical of the same name.
The story is narrated by Rachel (the excellent Rachel Lumberg) whose life has been put on hold for the past 25 years after a tragedy.
But as a 16 year old she escaped into her bedroom, and her dreams, to fantasise about marrying all the members of her favourite band while her warring parents threw crockery and contemplated divorce.
Her best friend, Debs, wins a competition for them to see the lads perform in Manchester so the girls skive off school to get ready for their big night.
Big, busty Heather, who hopes to be a fashion designer, kits them out, bookish Zoe helps them negotiate their way home, Claire, who hopes to dive in the Olympics, offers support while Rachel and Debs have stars in their eyes.
Fast forward to 2018 and life hasn’t turned out exactly the way any of them hoped it would but, when they meet up again, after a lifetime apart, they rekindle their friendship and embark on a dream trip to a reunion concert of The Band in Prague.
Throughout the show Andy Williams is hilarious, playing a series of grumpy old gits, from a roadie and school caretaker, to police officer and camp flight attendant.
Meanwhile The Band – AJ Bentley, Nick Carsberg, Curtis T Johns, Sario Solomon and understudy Harry Brown – say nothing other than haunt the sets like ghosts of the women’s youth.
But they do a great job performing the iconic playlist – accompanied by Kim Gavin’s equally memorable choreography – while going through a wardrobe of stage outfits every bit as insane as the real TT modelled in their career.
Firth scored a global hit with Calendar Girls and this show has a lot of the same elements, taking audiences on an emotional rollercoaster with real characters we can all relate to.
We agonise with Claire (Alison Fitzjohn) whose dreams died of loneliness, cry with Rachel who is unable to forget, empathise with Zoe whose life is steered off course, and laugh with the fearless Heather – both as young girls and adults.
The of the teens Katy Clayton stands out as Heather with her older self, played by Emily Joyce capturing, and continuing, the youngster’s free spirit.
I loved every wonderful, heart-stopping, minute of this terrific show. Could It Be Magic? You betcha.
The Band plays in the Derngate Theatre until June 9.
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REMAINING 2018/9 TOUR DATES
Theatre Royal Nottingham, June 12 – 23
King’s Theatre Glasgow, June 26 – July 7
Edinburgh Playhouse, July 10 – 14
Cliffs Pavilion, Southend, September 19 – 29
His Majesty’s Theatre, Aberdeen, October 4 – 13
Sheffield Lyceum Theatre, October 16 – 20
Wimbledon Theatre, October 23 – 27
New Theatre, Oxford, October 30 – November 3
Bord Gáis Energy Theatre, Dublin, November 6 – 10
Grand Opera House, Belfast, November 13 – 24
The Lowry, Salford, January 16 – 26
Grand Theatre, Swansea, January 29 – February 2
Orchard Theatre, Dartford, February 5 – 9
Regent Theatre, Ipswich, February 12 – 16
New Victoria, Woking, February 19 – 23
Wolverhampton Grand, February 26 – March 2
Milton Keynes Theatre, March 5 – 9
Mayflower Theatre, Southampton, March 12 – 16.
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