Review: The Band, Manchester Opera House

“Do the boys have a song for a moment like this?”
Having a bit of fun with this one – there was actually 8 of us in attendance at new Take That musical The Band (with a boisterous Saturday evening crowd), for the occasion of celebrating my niece’s 13th birthday. And from ages 10 to (almost) 70, we all really enjoyed ourselves, so I put everyone to work to chip in with their favourite bits about the show, a la Smash Hits. Written by Tim Firth, what I found particularly pleasing was that The Band actually proves an engaging and entertaining piece of theatre, one that has clearly thought about the jukebox form and how it might be played with.

1,

We open in 16-year-old Rachel’s bedroom in 1993, a time of Ceefax and Top of the Pops, of teenage dreams and life’s potential. But her parents are on the brink of divorce and so she retreats under the covers to listen to ‘the boys’, her favourite band who she is able to conjure up at a moment’s notice. It’s a nifty conceit, this internalised band, as it plays both into the fantasy element of being a devoted fan and provides a conduit for the bursting-into-song required of a musical, whether Rachel is using the music to drown out the harshness of the real world or lose herself in a reverie of hunky gladiators.

Firth’s book surrounds Rachel with her 4 closest friends, all equally into the band, but also follows them 25 years on, to see how those schoolgirl hopes and dreams have played out. And he nails the kind of ‘real life’ humour which has arguably become his shtick – so if you’re going to do a fat person joke, make it as funny as this one; don’t be afraid of being cheesy (look out for how the lyrics to ‘Babe’ are used) but underscore everything with real compassion. The result is a heartwarming hug of a plot – sure, it won’t be to everyone’s taste but when has that ever really been a problem?!

Kim Gavin and Jack Ryder’s production also balances the glossiness of the world of musical theatre with something akin to realism. So of course we get big production numbers (‘Relight My Fire’ is an eye-popping delight; ‘The Flood’ is also v well done) but at the same time, the older versions of the characters look like normal women with a range of body shapes – it may seem like a small thing but it is a quietly political move. Rachel Lumberg, Emily Joyce, Jayne McKenna and Alison Fitzjohn are all most entertaining as they interact together, particularly where Prague and planes are concerned and there’s something joyous about watching Fitzjohn seemingly have the time of her life.

As for ‘the boys’, the band Five To Five (put together on BBC reality show Let It Shine) acquit themselves well. Hired for their muscles (to put on display at regular intervals) and their muscle (they’re often responsible for shifting the components of Jon Bausor’s functional design around), I think I preferred them as Rachel’s internal group where they have a little more opportunity to show some personality, as opposed to the performances as the band themselves, where they have little choice but to recreate the moves that Take That are famed for and which the audience long to see.

I did have a couple of notes. I wish the show didn’t indulge in a variation on this particular trope (spoiler alert if you click on it!) though perversely, it did mean we got to see more of the excellent Rachel Diedericks. And the realities of a touring theatre design inevitably mean it doesn’t always match the staging grandeur of the Take That concerts it tries to ape. And the behaviour of a Saturday night audience in the mood for some participation was a little grating, particularly in the quiet moments. 

But even then I find it hard to begrudge them that because The Band proved to be such a fun evening, regardless of the context. And if some are tempted to sneer for reasons of snobbery or whatever, it is worth remembering that the show is going to be encouraging people (and dare I say it, including a fair few non-regular theatregoers) to have such fun in theatres across the country and I can’t see how that is a bad thing. Could it be magic? It just might.

Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 30th September, then touring to…
Sheffield Lyceum Theatre 3 – 14 October
Bradford Alhambra Theatre 17 – 28 October
Mayflower Theatre Southampton 31 October – 11 November
Llandudno Venue Cymru 14 – 25 November
Regent Theatre Stoke-on-Trent 28 November – 9 December
Wales Milennium Centre Cardiff 9 – 20 January
Liverpool Empire Theatre 23 January – 3 February
Norwich Theatre Royal 6 – 17 February
Marlowe Theatre Canterbury 20 February – 3 March
Hull New Theatre 6 – 17 March
Leeds Grand Theatre 20 – 31 March
Newcastle Theatre Royal 3 – 14 April
Bristol Hippodrome 17 – 28 April
Birmingham Hippodrome 1 – 12 May
Plymouth Theatre Royal 15 – 26 May
Northampton Royal & Derngate 29 May – 9 June
Nottingham Theatre Royal 12 – 23 June
Glasgow King’s Theatre 26 June – 7 July
Edinburgh Playhouse 10 – 14 July

Review: The Full Monty, Theatre Royal Brighton

“You’ve got knockers and we’re after knobs”

 

Who knows why the West End run of The Full Monty lasted barely a month, I suspect the truth will never fully be known. But that was far from the end for the show, which is now midway through an extensive UK tour which does feel more like a natural home for Simon Beaufoy’s play – for me, jokes about knobs and knockers sit better on the seafront here than they ever would on Shaftesbury Avenue.
Which isn’t meant as a diss, just recognising the varying tastes of audiences and they were the key to my enjoyment of this evening – a carefree, whooping barrel of laughs coming left right and centre from a theatre full of people simply enjoying themselves. It’s a special thing to feel this sort of connection and I’m not sure if we get it that often in London theatres, or at least the ones I go to.

I mean yes, you can cavil at how the play is different from the film – how the men’s unemployment isn’t taken seriously enough, how the decline of the industrial north isn’t explored, how the seedy nature of the world of stripping isn’t interrogated – but that is not to recognise that this is just a different beast. It may not have the same intellectual integrity but it certainly has more than enough heart and humour in Daniel Evans’ production.
It’s fun (I’d forgotten the gay storyline that runs through the narrative – Rupert Hill and Bobby Schofield both delivering sensitive but strong performances), it’s silly (Martin Miller’s Dave and Louis Emerick’s Horse both get the laughs), it’s pleasant to look at (Gary Lucy is way too buff and beautiful but no one is complaining!) and it is also moving at times – Andrew Dunn nailing the depth of Gerald’s depression.
So celebrate it for what it is, not what you thought it might be. I’m the first to admit that I’m guilty of such crimes but on this occasion, bolstered by a cracking seafood dinner beforehand, a go on the coin pusher machines in the arcade and a whole dollop of Brighton bonhomie from a raucously receptive audience, there’s something hugely enjoyable here and for once, it is London that is missing out.
Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)
Photo: Matt Crockett
Booking until 13th December, then continuing to tour to Milton Keynes Theatre, Swansea Grand Theatre, Woking New Victoria Theatre, Bradford Alhambra Theatre, Nottingham Theatre Royal, Sunderland Empire, Leicester Demontfort Hall, Tunbridge Wells Assembly Hall Theatre, Llandudno Venue Cymru, Ipswich Regent Theatre, Aberdeen His Majesty’s Theatre, High Wycombe Swan, Bristol Hippodrome, Dartford Orchard, Carlisle Sands Centre and Sheffield Lyceum

TV Review: Scott and Bailey Series 4

“This is something I can’t ignore”

Typical really, the first series of Scott & Bailey that I actually get to watch live on air and it’s the first one that disappointed me. I caught up quickly with the first three over the last few weeks so that I would be up to speed with Series 4 but all in all, I didn’t feel like it was up to the standard. No real overarching story emerged across the eight episodes and without the heightened drama that would have added, this just felt like a retread of some of the same old plot points.

An ill-advised affair with a colleague, a promotion not taken due to personal circumstances, Janet’s kids playing up, tough but tender relations with Gill…it does feel like we’ve been here before. And though there are new twists, none of them really took flight – Rachel’s step up to sergeant never really foregrounded, a hint of romance for Janet left until the very end. The individual cases that came up maintained the usual level of interest but something was lacking in the end. Continue reading “TV Review: Scott and Bailey Series 4”