Image by Matt Crockett
Opera House, Manchester
Until Saturday 30th September, 2017
Following the huge success of The Girls, which first premiered at the Grand Theatre, Leeds back in November 2015, writer Tim Firth and Gary Barlow have once again teamed up for new musical, The Band, a stirring tale of friendship, dreams and idolisation set to the hits of Take That and co-produced by Barlow and fellow band members Howard Donald, Mark Owen and Robbie Williams.
Anyone familiar with the work of Tim Firth will instantly recognise not only the signature wit that drives many of his works but also the tenderness and sensitivity he derives from the simplest and most relatable situations; The Band is certainly no different.
Beginning in 1992, Firth’s cross-generational tale centres on a group of young school friends bonded by their mutual obsession of a Take That-like boy band, yet sadly driven apart by unexpected tragedy. Twenty-five years later the friends are brought back together in a bid to finally meet their idols, but it is clear the futures they had all mapped out years earlier didn’t quite go to plan.
Although there are biographical elements to it, The Band is primarily inspired by the emotional impact Take That’s music has had on its fans, and directors Kim Gavin and Jack Ryder’s slick, nuanced new production does an excellent job at navigating and balancing the various tones and themes explored.
This is a show that puts the principle focus firmly on the female characters and not the band, as might be expected, and Rachel Lumberg, Alison Fitzjohn, Emily Joyce and Jayne McKenna lead the production’s superb ensemble with great humour and pathos as the grown up quartet, affectionately, and often bitterly, looking back on their younger selves.
Faye Christall, Katy Clayton, Rachelle Diedricks, Sarah Kate Howarth and Lauren Jacobs offer strong support as the younger girls, with Martin Miller and the versatile Andy Williams humorously completing the supporting cast.
Cast through BBC reality show, Let It Shine, Five To Five (AJ Bentley, Nick Carsberg, Curtis T Johns, Yazdan Qafouri and Sario Solomon) are of course the main audience draw here, but they certainly aren’t used in the way many might be expecting. In contrast to the full on concert performance the promos would suggest, they are mostly employed as a means of complementing and supporting the dialogue with a backdrop of close harmonies and a cappella vocals. Individually some of their vocals can be a little wobbly, but collectively their harmonies are superb.
The show’s use of Take That’s music (brilliantly orchestrated by Steve Parry) is inspired, and the poignant piano underscores heard throughout can be very moving indeed. Though it never goes for big budget spectacle, The Band is nevertheless very effectively staged and utilises some strong and evocative design elements.
Featuring 18 of their best loved songs, Take That fans couldn’t possibly be disappointed by what the show has to offer, but it’s certainly not just for the die hard fans, and in its universally relatable, feel-good tale, The Band really does offer something for everyone, effortlessly exuding warmth, chemistry and emotion.
Running Time: 2 hours and 20-minutes (approx.), including one 20-minute interval.
Final Performance at the Opera House, Manchester: Saturday 30th September, 2017
For more information, and to book tickets, please Click Here.