Touring – reviewed at Birmingham Hippodrome
Guest reviewer: Claire Sidebottom
I arrived at the Birmingham Hippodrome knowing nothing but that it was a musical featuring Take That songs, but as soon as I entered the theatre the stage curtain transported me back to 1993, with the sight of the familiar yet long forgotten view of good old Teletext screens projected onto it. From news of Jurassic Park being the film to see, to the Top 40 single chart listings, bringing back songs and artists to many of the audience sitting around me, that were long forgotten along with the copies of the song lyrics in Smash Hits that used to fill our teenage bedrooms.
The show proceeded to take us further back to our teenage selves. With the time being 7pm on a Thursday, there was nothing else to be done than to watch Top of the Pops, well if you were going to have anything to talk about on Friday at school that is.
From the classic BBC music show theme tune and straight into early Take That tunes, the music transported me back to my teenage memories. With a surprise twist though, the story wasn’t to be about a boy band, with expected reflections of the Take That boys’ journeys that had brought them to this point. In fact, the plot was to follow the way in which music and love for a band during those all-important teenage years can impact a group of girls as they reunite as women 25 years older, but who were everything to each other during their adolescent years.
Straight away the group of five girls had such different personalities and lives, but that friendship and adoration of the popular boy band saw them not only having all the same posters stuck on their bedroom walls, but a place within each other’s hearts forever. Those years before we enter the big wide world outside the school walls can have a bigger effect on our lives than we sometimes realise.
The story’s journey takes us from those relatable girl characters of sweet 16, then becomes even more relatable to women in today’s modern world, and serves as a harsh reminder that it’s not very often that the childhood dreams that you hatched together with friends in the classroom (instead of doing your school work) actually end as reality.
The flash backs to 90’s life at the beginning of the story, was very nostalgic and relatable for me, meaning the tragic twist in the storyline during the first half that moved the story into adulthood, wasn’t the only reason I felt emotional when the theatre lights came on for the interval. After a cursory check around me, I was happy in the knowledge that I was not the only one in the audience with teary eyes.
It was during the second half that it dawned on me that the five members of the band that had gone through agonising weeks of TV competition in BBC’s ‘Let it Shine’ were actually faceless characters throughout the performance. They were never referred to as Take That but to as ‘The Band’ or ‘the boys’, they didn’t have character names, but the occasional Take That reference here and there were comforting reminders, from the TT symbol being used, references to comebacks, and the image of the five boys’ comeback album cover ‘Progress’. Those five boys picked from the public vote, were actually the way the music was brought into the girls stories to show how those songs we have all listened to through the years of going from children to adults has related and entwined as we have grown. And how even a couple of notes or lyrics from a song can take our minds flooding back in time.
A little unfair that the boys didn’t age through the twenty five years like the main female characters, only joking of course, but then again that is life, we like to remember our idols as they were when we were young. And the ladies that did reflect those teenage characters in adult life all gave worthy, emotional performances in both acting and singing for their standing ovation, with the character of Heather being played by the familiar face from TV of Emily Joyce, and all of them having emotional and funny aspects within their roles. And then there was Jeff, played by Martin Miller, a boyfriend within the current day storyline that was to highlight that all those teenage plans of marrying a pop star end with a reality check of everyday relationships, but at the same time the friends and family in our lives, with all our different characters and flaws, are what makes life what it is.
The set design was spot on, for the 90’s teenager, and scene changes throughout the whole show were helped by the five boys, but the way the band emerged within scenes was done in a clever seamless manner with them emerging into song from school lockers, bedroom cupboards, statues, and the back seats of the bus, but it highlighted that music isn’t the main character in our lives but it encompasses so much we do, and a song can bring back so many memories within everyone lives, may it be a happy or sad memory.
During the entire show the comedy was perfectly timed, especially at certain vital intervals, when I would have to rummage in handbag for a tissue, the witty one liners saved my make-up! Especially the role of Every Dave (Andy Williams) who played various characters along the storyline, he brought a comedy element every time he set foot on the stage.
On reflection the show’s poster gives you a clue to the way in which the musical’s title is a double sided sword to the word ‘Band’ and those colours within the 5 bands on the poster are reflected within the five main female character’s costumes though the show. No matter how the costumes changed throughout the story the girls kept to their allocated band colour. Whereas the boy bands’ costumes were by no means a complete reflection of Take That through the eras, but there were discreet links to fashion from their pop videos and concert performances.
In essence you don’t have to be a massive Take That fan (but knowing their popular songs is an obvious bonus) and you don’t have to have been a teenage girl during the 90’s to enjoy it at all, as the show has a solid storyline, a strong mixture of characters for a modern musical theatre show, and you will come out happy, singing ‘Shine’ and hearing many people saying they want to go in and watch it all again. However if Take That was your passion while growing up in the 90’s then this comes with the premise that if you are going to wear makeup, then make sure it is waterproof!
Photo Credits: The Band website