Thursday, 17 January 2019

REVIEW: The Band - The Lowry Theatre, Salford

It seems like over a year ago since I was first introduced to Tim Firth’s new musical “The Band” - and I mean that in a positive way - as I’ve held onto the memories of that first introduction for far longer than any of the fifty plus other touring productions I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing since then. However it was only October 2018 when I first had the pleasure of witnessing the opening night at Sheffield’s Lyceum Theatre but the musical has remained with me over the last few months and held a special place in my heart. I cried my eyes out at several parts of the story the first time round and laughed out loud in equal measures so I was somewhat excitable about my visit to Salford’s The Lowry this evening to Relight My Fire so to speak!

This isn’t “just another jukebox musical” - far from it in fact. It’s a poignant powerful piece of nostalgia, with a focus on staying loyal to your childhood friends, keeping those promises you made to your best friend and demonstrates just how pop music (love it or loathe it) can prove a powerful tool - bringing to life as this story’s band - fondly referred to as “the boys” - we never actually find out the band's name - appear as background silhouettes and teenage girls' day dreams - cropping up everywhere from teens' bedrooms to school lockers and twenty five years later in the grown-up Rachel’s kitchen as she fondly recalls her teen years.

The story starts in 1992 in Rachel (Faye Christall) - a high school girl's bedroom following the announcement and video introduction of Top of The Pops “ it’s Thursday, it’s’s time for TOP OF THE POPS!” Rachel (who acts as the story’s narrator) tells us how she grew up with a boy band explaining that although the band had no idea of her existence they were there with her in a spiritual way throughout her teen years through into her adult years. However Rachel wasn’t the only one of the five friends who could “see” the band appear in everyday situations - best friend Debbie (Rachelle Diedericks) could too. As Rachel dances around her bedroom to the boys on TOTP, the boys appear and break into song and dance routines; they're with her when she showers (“not actually IN the shower with me of course!”) laughs Rachel. They’re with her as she gets dressed to school where she meets best friend Debbie - who tells her that she’s won five tickets to see their idols perform live in Manchester so the pair along with the rest of the gang; Heather (Katy Clayton), an overly confident teen, especially when it ones to scoring boys, Zoe (Lauren Jacobs) the class whiz who’s main ambition is to go to University, and the promising athlete Claire (Sarah Kate Howarth) - all head off by train to the gig in Manchester and after missing the last train back take a slight detour and end up on the rocks overlooking their home town. Whilst standing on the rocks the five friends make a pact to always keep in touch no matter what. Sadly shortly after as the five split to go their separate ways home, tragedy strikes. Flash forward twenty five years and we meet Rachel (who as a teen her main ambition in life was to get married), living with her long term partner Jeff (Martin Miller). Again the boys appear in her house as she reminisces about the past and states that the girls lost touch after that fatal night. When Jeff is preparing to leave for work he hears her name on the radio. Having entered a competition to win four (how coincidental!) tickets to the band's reunion tour in Prague and when Rachel finds out she has won she decides its time for a reunion of her own and contacts the remaining three friends. Needless to say none of the other three friends have achieved their childhood ambitions - one as changed beyond recognition, one has a big secret and the other also has confessions to make.

The four remaining friends travel to Prague and reminisce about their teen years as the boys crop up throughout the story, belting out Take That’s biggest hits from “Back For Good”, “Could It Be Magic”, “Never Forget” and my favourite “Rule the World”. Whilst the story has nothing to do with Take That, the musical was put together following the TV show “Let It Shine” which in 2017 set out to find a Take That tribute band to form the basis of this musical. The band (Five To Five) certainly have mastered the energetic perfectly synced choreography that Take That and other similar boybands had in their heyday whilst vocally sounding somewhat similar, however, nothing can recreate the magic of Take That in the early 1990s. Take That were to me like what the band were for Rachel and her friends - they formed at the start of my High School years and played an important part of my teen to adult years.

A stand-out performer of the show had to be Alison Fitzjohn as the grown up Claire. She brought a certain warmth and humour to the show proving how certain events in a persons life can have a dramatic and lasting impact. Katy Clayton as young Heather was another notable performer. Clayton not only has all the best witty jokes but it’s how she delivered them and portrayed the confident character which give her the real edge over the other four.

The show uses a set of screens designed to look like Polaroid photos overlapping with white push pins to hold them in place and these play a vital role setting various scenes - from the view from the rocks to aboard the flight to Prague - this simple yet effective display adds to the magic of this feel good nostalgic musical.

A must for any musical lover - regardless of whether or not you are a Take That fan.

Reviewer - Lottie Davis-Browne
on - 16/1/19

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