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

2015 BroadwayWorld UK Awards – Winners’ list

Best Choreography in a New Production of a Musical
Drew McOnie – Hairspray – Leicester Curve

Best Costume Design in a New Production of a Play or Musical
Sue Blane – The Rocky Horror Show – Playhouse Theatre

Best Direction of a New Production of a Musical
Trevor Nunn – Cats – London Palladium

Best Direction of a New Production of a Play
Lyndsey Turner – Hamlet – Barbican

Best Featured Actor in a New Production of a Musical
Steve Rushton – American Idiot – Arts Theatre

Best Featured Actor in a New Production of a Play
Will Austin – Gods And Monsters – Southwark Playhouse

Best Featured Actress in a New Production of a Musical
Kerry Ellis – Cats – London Palladium

Best Featured Actress in a New Production of a Play
Rachel Lumberg – Romeo and Juliet – Sheffield Crucible

Best Leading Actor in a New Production of a Musical
Killian Donnelly – Memphis – Shaftesbury Theatre

Best Leading Actor in A New Production of a Play
Benedict Cumberbatch – Hamlet – Barbican Theatre

Best Leading Actress in a New Production of a Musical
Imelda Staunton – Gypsy – Savoy Theatre

Best Leading Actress in a New Production of a Play
Olivia Vinall – The Hard Problem – National Theatre

Best Lighting Design in a New Production of a Play or Musical
Hugh Vanstone – Future Conditional – Old Vic

Best Long-Running Show in the West End
Les Miserables Queen’s Theatre

Best Musical Direction (Fringe or regional)
George Dyer – Annie – UK tour

Best Musical Direction (West End)
Richard Morris – American Idiot – Arts Theatre

Best New Musical in the West End
American Idiot – Arts Theatre

Best New Play
The Play That Goes Wrong – Duchess Theatre

Best New Production of a Musical (Fringe/Regions)
The Spitfire Grill – Union Theatre

Best New Production of a Play (Fringe/Regions)
Crucible – Manchester

Best Performance in a Long-Running West End show (Female)
Rachelle Ann Go – Les Miserables – Queens Theatre

Best Performance in a Long-Running West End show (Male)
Jon Jon Briones – Miss Saigon – Prince Edward Theatre

Best Revival of a Musical
Grand Hotel – Southwark Playhouse

Best Revival of a Play
Harvey – Theatre Royal Haymarket

Best Scenic Design in a New Production of a Play or Musical
Es Devlin – Hamlet – Barbican

Best Sound Design in a New Production of a Play or Musical
Chris Whybrow – American Idiot – Arts Theatre

Theatrical Event of the Year
Miss Saigon 25th Anniversary Concert – Prince Edward Theatre

Theatrical Venue of the Year
Queens Theatre

Understudy of the Year in any production of a Play or Musical (Female)
Marsha Songcome – Miss Saigon – Prince Edward

Understudy of the Year in any production of a Play or Musical (Male)
Luke Baker – American Idiot – Arts Theatre

2013 BroadwayWorld UK Awards – Winners’ list

Best Choreography in a New Production of a Musical
WINNER – Casey Nicholaw – The Book of Mormon
Peter Darling – Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Steven Hoggett – Once the Musical

Best Costume Design in a New Production of a Play or Musical
WINNER – Mark Thompson – Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Ann Roth – The Book of Mormon
David Woodhead – Titanic Continue reading “2013 BroadwayWorld UK Awards – Winners’ list”

Review: The Way of the World, Crucible

“I’m in a maze yet, like a dog in a dancing-school”

I doubt I could have named a single Restoration comedy for you even just a few months ago but trends in theatre change as endlessly as in fashion, and I now find myself having seen three already this year. Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre get in on the act with this revival of William Congreve’s The Way of the World (ahead of Chichester who are putting it on as part of this year’s festival) from 1700, following my trips to the Donmar’s The Recruiting Officer (1706) and the National’s She Stoops to Conquer (1773).

Lyndsey Turner’s production here though is the only one of these that has taken major liberties with the play, in this case setting in the modern day where ‘Restoration’ is a new trend that has swept society. At its simplest, the plot follows the young Mirabell who is courting the delicious Millament, yet comes up against her formidable aunt Lady Wishfort who is set against the match and threatens to withhold her fortune, which many others have their eye on and are willing to commit dastardly deeds to get it. But the play is rarely that simple, and with the directorial device at play, I must admit it challenged me just a little (and made me wish I’d read a synopsis beforehand). Continue reading “Review: The Way of the World, Crucible”

Review: The Rise and Fall of Little Voice, Vaudeville Theatre

“You have to speak up, Little Voice”

The last time I saw Diana Vickers was in the less than salubrious surroundings of the delightful Nightingales nightclub in Birmingham and I was less than sober. Having just been evicted from The X-Factor semifinals, one might have expected the predictable slide into obscurity but she surprised many when announced as the titular character in this revival of The Rise and Fall of Little Voice.

The story is of the painfully shy LV who lives a hermit-like existence at home with her horrendous mother, Mari, and her only release is singing along to the vinyl records of female singers left to her by her deceased father. She has a prodigious talent for this which is only recognised by one of her mother’s latest pickups who then sees this as an opportunity to be exploited for his own personal gain. Despite the name of the play, this is Mari’s show. Sharp opens with a 20 minute blast of self-absorbed narcissism which exposes the full heartlessness of her character and she only becomes more vindictive as we and LV progress. It is stunning to watch, but sadly becomes a little repetitive, a fault of the play rather than Sharp though. Continue reading “Review: The Rise and Fall of Little Voice, Vaudeville Theatre”