Theatre Review: The Band, Theatre Royal Haymarket

The cast of The Band at Theatre Royal Haymarket

The cast of The Band at Theatre Royal Haymarket - Credit: Archant

An unexpededly reflective exploration of how music offers a soundtrack to our lives based around the songs of Take That

The cast of The Band at Theatre Royal Haymarket

The cast of The Band at Theatre Royal Haymarket - Credit: Archant

Jukebox musicals have come a long way.

From Bowie’s arthouse Lazarus to the gloriously creaky plots of Mama Mia! new musicals are eclipsing bio-dramas about bands or singers - interspersed with their hits.

Calendar Girls writer Tim Firth gives us The Band – a new musical based around Take That songs.

First seen in Manchester last year, it proves that fresh jukebox formats can work to dazzling effect.

The Band’s plot doesn’t feature any glory or gory moments from the 90s heyday of the Take That boys or Robbie’s solo career.

Given that it’s co-produced by former Take That members themselves, it’s a relief it’s no self-congratulatory showboat.

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Rather, Firth’s musical is a reflective exploration of pop adulation and, perhaps surprisingly, it delves deep into how music can provide a soundtrack to our lives.

In this case we meet five working class schoolgirls from outside Manchester who win a competition to see Take That and then, against all odds, reunite 25 years later to see the band perform in Prague.

The ersatz Take That members were chosen through the BBC’s Let it Shine. The set wobbles and resembles a collage of gigantic sun visors onto which a succession of literal images are projected – flowers for a funeral scene, stones for a quarry, stars as teenage girls gaze to the heavens. Even the choice of former EastEnders star Jack Ryder as co-director with Kim Gavin ensures the style of the show is shamelessly TV lite-entertainment. But the show packs an emotional punch and not only in the gig scenes. These are tantalizing few in number and electric albeit with the help of ramped-up sound and a jowl-pummeling wind machine. Subtler moments include when Rachel [Rachel Lumberg] tells her husband she’s taking her estranged girlfriends to Prague and years of suppressed dreams are subtly conveyed.

As in Sondheim’s Follies the middle-aged characters share scenes with their younger selves adding layers to Barlow’s lyrics. What comes across is what a wonderful songwriter Barlow is. Through personalizing the songs, the emotions stretch form love to regret, disappointment, even depression. A Million Long Songs is especially moving.