Tim Firth and the music of Take That
Ambassadors Theatre Group
The New Victoria Theatre, Woking
If you’re aged between 30-50 and live in the Woking area, then you won’t need to read this review as you were probably at the performance of The Band last night.
The New Victoria Theatre was packed to bursting with a very specific demographic. No seat was spare and a decidedly happy mob sang along, clearly able to relate to the fandom depicted onstage. With the backing of Gary Barlow and the rest of the band, it turns out that The Band is the fastest-selling theatre tour of all time.
Unlike many jukebox musicals, this isn’t a story of Take That’s history but instead how ‘the boys’ brought a group of teenage girls together and reunited them 25 years later.
The telling is warmhearted and loveable. Five spunky northern teenagers obsess over the boys, planning their future weddings and plastering posters inside lockers. And, of course, never missing a Thursday night Top of the Pops.
The Ceefax screen which opens the show effectively places us back in the '90s and there are a fair few references to Smash Hits and Top of the Pops, along with some excellent styling reminding us why so many of those fashion trends are best left in the past… Throughout the show, there are cleverly used video projections (Luke Halls) to flesh out scenes.
The boys surround young Rachel (Faye Christall), accompanying her every waking hour as she prepares for school and attempts to block out the sounds of her parents' divorce.
Using the band as a backing track to the girls' lives avoids the inevitable crowbar of themes that is often found in the typical jukebox script. Instead, this story about friendship and loyalty is enabled by the boys—they appear in countless costume changes to pop out of school lockers, act as singing air traffic control and even become naked fountain statues.
It’s not all sweetness and light; tragedy strikes after the girls attend their first ever gig and dancing Debbie (Rachel Diedericks) is killed on the way home. The friendship group drifts apart and it isn’t until 40-something when Rachel wins four tickets to a reunion band concert in Prague that they see each other again.
The band in this performance was selected in reality TV show Let it Shine in 2017. According to all the literature, the five lads have become a close-nit team—but, although their street dance is tightly in sync, the vocals aren’t so consistent. There’s the odd missed note and missed timing, making it hard not to compare these young men to the original Take That team.
Sadly, there are no sensational vocal performances from anyone in the show, probably not helped by the musical material they’re working with. The range of teenage boy band pop never sounds as good when sang by women, but even when the boys are singing, the performance lacks vocal power.
The story concept is good, but the script feels a little try-hard and some of the jokes feel contrived. Instead, this story of intergenerational pop fandom relies on the excellent acting from all of the ladies in the cast; whether the teenage versions or the friends 25 years on, the females in this musical have been well cast.
This is not a groundbreaking new musical and the performance, though energetic, never quite reaches electrifying. Despite this, it is a fun night out. For the hundreds of cheering Take That fans packed int the auditorium in Woking, clearly that was more than enough.