Review: The Band, Take That musical, Theatre Royal, Newcastle, until April 14
The year was 1995. I'd just turned 13 and to celebrate this teen milestone, my dad drove me and my friend all the way to Manchester and back to see Take That perform.
It was my first gig and it was euphoric - don’t judge, I was only a bairn.
As the years passed, my 365 Take That posters gradually got taken down, I slowly forgave Robbie for leaving and I came to terms with the fact that I probably wasn’t going to marry Mark Owen.
But last night, for a glorious two hours, I got to feel like a teenager who’d never been kissed all over again.
In a musical which spans the decades, The Band is based on women just like me, there’s plenty of us, whose puppy love for a boy band once dictated what they wore, listened to and thought about.
Our protagonist is Rachel, played with real warmth by young actress Faye Christall and, as she gets older by the equally relatable Rachel Lumberg. We first meet her in 1992 as she and her friends win a competition to see their favourite band. Though they’re never called as such, it is unmistakably Take That. Kangol hats: check. Curtain hairstyles: check. Dummy necklaces: check. Infectious pop hits: check, check, check.
In the early scenes, the score takes us back to the early days of Take That in all its back-flipping glory, with The Band performing brilliant renditions of A Million Love Songs, Back For Good, Could it Be Magic and Do What You Like. (Sadly there was no jelly used in that last one)
The audience are on a high - so much so people were dancing along by the second song - and so are our five young friends who, alongside Rachel are played with a real sense of unity by Katy Clayton as Heather, Rachelle Diedericks as Debbie, Sarah Kate Howarth as Claire and Lauren Jacobs as Zoe.
But after the best night of their teenage lives, a catastrophic incident happens which breaks their bond and sends them on separate paths in life.
Fast forward 25 years and Rachel, though in a relationship with a man she loves (played with great comic timing by Martin Miller), has a void left by the loss of her strong friendships.
The Band, meanwhile, have reformed and they’re playing a gig in Prague and after winning four concert tickets and a trip to the Czech Republic, it sets Rachel on the path to reforming her band of friends.
Penned by Olivier Award-winning writer Tim Firth (who is also behind the excellent Calendar Girls), the female characters are incredibly well-drawn and their transition from optimistic teenagers to women worn down by the daily grind is brilliantly observed. Observations brought to life by the acting talents of Alison Fitzjohn as adult Claire, Emily Joyce as adult Heather and Jayne McKenna as adult Zoe.
Though The Band say little, they’re an impressive whirlwind of energy which unites the women and echoes their emotions, whether that be in good times or bad.
They’re played with impressive athleticism and vocal skills by the winners of BBC’s Let It Shine - AJ Bentley, Nick Carsberg, Curtis T Johns, Yazdan Qafouri and Sario Solomon, known collectively as Five to Five.
The TV show passed me by, but the five-piece played Take That brilliantly, while also bringing their own characters to the roles. On paper, a show like this could have easily become a gussied up tribute show, but the strong story, filled with pathos and joy, blends seamlessly with well-performed hits such as Pray, Relight My Fire, Rule the World, Shine and The Flood.
As anyone who’s been to a Take That concert will know, their shows are filled with theatrics so it’s only fitting that the staging of this musical should echo that - and it does.
It featured some of the slickest sets I’ve seen in a long time, from the spotlights of a stadium gig to dancing statues and a budget flight-cum-dancefloor.
By the end we were all on our feet, even the dads, waving our phones in the air like lighters. This was the most fun I’ve had without actually going to a Take That gig.