The Band Review

Theatre Royal Haymarket, London – until 12 January

5*****

Take That appeared on stage last night in support of the Evening Standard’s Christmas AIDSfree appeal when they host a special gala performance of their musical.

The Theatre Royal Haymarket was transformed when all of the seats in the stalls were removed to make way for dinner tables.

Ticket proceeds from the black-tie event, which marked the opening night of The Band in the West End, were expected to raise thousands for the AIDSfree appeal with the Elton John Aids Foundation.

But for press night there was no trace of the party.  Instead the giant TV, showing pages from Ceefax, entertained the audience as the auditorium began to fill up.

Words can not really say just how good this show is.  Written by Tim Firth and co produced by David Pugh, Dafydd Rogers, Gary Barlow, Howard Donald, Mark Owen and Robbie Williams – The Band is the newest jukebox musical to hit the stage.  

The show’s story revolves around five teenagers who adore “The Band” and win tickets to a concert of their heroes. The second act sees a reunion of four of the women 25 years later. Firth’s writing is very carefully observed and makes us laugh, cringe, cry and cheer for the women who this musical is really about. The teenagers were superb and took me right back to the days when I too adored a pop star and made promises I was so sure I would keep.

Whilst some “jukebox” musicals have songs shoehorned in and very little in the way of story, The Band is different.  The music of Take That is secondary to the piece, it doesn’t drive the show and its fits perfectly into the story.  Firth has woven a tight script around a simple premise of schoolgirl crushes and the pains of love and loss across a narrative that spans over 25 years.  The simplicity of which means that we can really connect with the characters

It would feel wrong to single out one member of the cast for praise as they were all outstanding, all playing their parts superbly.  The younger group of friends Faye Christall (Rachel), Debbie (Rachelle Diedericks), Heather (Katy Clayton), Claire (Sarah Kate Howarth) and Zoe (Lauren Jacobs) show great chemistry on stage together.  The older group of Rachel Lumberg, Emily Joyce, Alison Fitzjohn and Jayne McKenna are fierce, funny and wonderful. The casting is superb with the scenes in which they appear together showing how similar they all are. Back For Good sung by the teenagers to their adult selves was particularly moving.  It takes no imagination to believe they could be a younger and older version of the same person.  For these are real people, totally identifiable. And you will sit looking at your 16 year old self and recognising the 40 plus year old woman you have become

The Band (AJ Bentley, Nick Carsberg, Curtis T Johns, Yazdan Qafouri, Sario Solomon) won their roles on the BBC show “Let it Shine” where they competed for the roles.  The band are lyrically outstanding, adding depth and meaning to Gary Barlow’s lyrics, giving a resonance to the scene’s in which they appear.

The cast is completed by the comedic Martin Miller as Rachel’s long term partner and Andy Williams who is hilarious as several different cameo characters and billed as Every Dave in the programme. There are no weak links in this cast. It could have been incredibly cheesy and sentimental but they manage to keep it grounded and real whilst also being entertaining and slightly mad at times! So well directed ~ slick and sharp! Very well done indeed!

This is the perfect feel good musical, for the 40+ generation especially – I hope it continues its West End run and keep on touring around the country.  Go and see it for yourself but take tissues

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