Following a career with multiple top hits, awards, and a reputation as a great British boyband, Take That have turned their attention to a staging a musical. Using their music and a book by Tim Firth, The Band follows five 16 year old girls as they obsess over their favourite group and the opportunity to see them live. Flash forward 25 years and the once inseparable girls are reunited for a reunion to see the boys whose music has always been a part of them.
Following an earlier tragedy, four of the five women are reunited and they meet the adults they have all become. The theme of friendship stands throughout the production, as does the idea that love for a boyband is ever lasting and will always bring everyone back together. The production is full of drama and impressive sets reminiscent of Take That’s performances, with the concert style in full force for many numbers. It is a jukebox musical, but the heartwarming plot that surrounds the music makes it flow gloriously – without it seeming heavy handed by chucking another hit in where it does not fit. “Back For Good” is a particularly good example as the grown women sing with their teen-incarnations apologising for whatever they have said or done in the past, wishing they could take back their former selves.
The publicity for The Band has been immense, following the casting of the boys through TV talent show “Let It Shine”. There is already a large fanbase for winners Five to Five who act as the ultimate boyband in the show singing Take That’s hits. The teenage fangirls Rachel (Faye Christall), Heather (Katy Clayton – who steals every scene she is in), Debbie (Rachelle Diedericks), Claire (Sarah Kate Howarth), and Zoe (Lauren Jacobs) are relatable to everyone who has ever loved a band. Their bedrooms and school lockers are covered in posters and they hilariously show complete dedication by taping their favourite songs on a cassette recorder. Five to Five are great at creating the atmosphere of a stadium performance, alongside the dramatic lighting and incredible costumes. It feels like a Take That tribute act, but they stand with their own dedicated fans in the audience, as well as an abundance of people there to hear their favourite Take That songs revived.
For a modern musical with a new book, there are a couple of things I took issue with which I think could have, and should have, been avoided. Firstly, themes of body shaming Claire, who as a teen was dreaming of being an Olympic diver, but as an adult is now less athletic. The show pauses for a second as the audience recover from laughter as Claire enters deadpan which is meant to be an obvious “fat joke”. It could be easy to let that one slide, however it was made to be one if the funniest moments of the show, and I couldn’t help feeling incredibly uncomfortable. The second was an emphasis of Heather, a character who had been with a lot of boys as a teenager, who was now in a relationship with a woman. Again, the grand reveal aspect and the theatricality of the dramatic responses felt unnecessary. If theatre wasn’t heteronormative enough, there’s now a drum roll and squeals of excitement when a character is gay; and in the case of body shaming, a hundred “fat jokes” followed in every scene thereafter. I just wonder if the way these plot points were addressed were at all necessary, as they seemed uncomfortable and out of place in a modern text. This may seem nitpicky and trivial to point out, but as an audience member, this is something I look for in theatre, and theatre should do better – especially with the opportunity of a modern book.
Having said that, the audience loved the show, swaying and singing along to the music, and laughing and crying along with the actors on stage. The Band is a hit for any Take That fan. Its sweet, nostalgic storyline is relatively harmless, and is a lovely celebration for anyone who has ever fangirled over a boyband.
The Band continues to tour until March 2019.