REVIEW: Take That Wonderland tour, Newcastle Arena

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Fire, rain, sword-fighting stilt-walkers, Gary floating through the air on a four-poster like pop’s answer to Bedknobs and Broomsticks - welcome to the bonkers world of Wonderland.

The weird and wonderful combined in spectacular fashion for Take That’s 2017 tour which kicked off in Newcastle last night for the first of two nights at the arena.

Mark Owen (L) and Howard Donald (C) of Take That perform on the Wonderland tour.   Photo by Dave J Hogan/Dave J Hogan/Getty Images

Mark Owen (L) and Howard Donald (C) of Take That perform on the Wonderland tour. Photo by Dave J Hogan/Dave J Hogan/Getty Images

But before we delve into the fantastical imaginings of the man band, there was the support act.

Never ever have I looked forward to a support as much as All Saints and the fab four took the excited crowd of 11,000 right back to the days of cargo pants and vest tops with renditions of Never Ever and Pure Shores, songs which sounded as fresh now as they did in the late ‘90s.

By the time The That took to the stage at 8.30pm, the crowd were at fever pitch.

The central circular stage, which means everyone gets a decent view, swirled with projections of woodland, underwater scenes, a floating man on an Aladdin’s carpet and Dali-esque images. It was impressive stuff - but with tickets priced £60 - £100 you want to see staging that’s had a lot of cash thrown at it.

Just to ramp up the excitement further, the lads didn’t appear in the round, but instead popped up on podiums in the corners of the arena. Cue deafening screams.

Clad in white jeans and embellished Liberace-style jackets and with Gary sporting a new peroxide do, they opened with the title track of their recently-released eighth studio album, Wonderland.

You have to hand it to Take That: they know how to put on a real, theatrical show. Remember the carnival of the Circus tour and the 60ft mechanical robot of the Progress tour at the Stadium of Light? Well they’re still pushing those boundaries of live production. When a band is already firing the confetti canons and flames on the second song (Greatest Day) you know you’re in for a good night.

“We’re going to take you as far back as 1992,” yelled Gary. Of course, the mainly female crowd of 30-plussers wanted a trip down memory lane, but the trio are still producing great pop hits.

Lead single from Wonderland, Giants, is a soaring track which was performed with towering projections of Gary, Howard and Mark circling the stage.

The staging constantly takes new twists and turns and is a curiosity shop of inspirations, from steam punk and Jack Sparrow to Cirque du Soleil.

For Relight My Fire they were joined on stage by Polynesian-style dancers in head-dresses. There was no guest female singer for the Lulu bit though, I was hoping for an All Saint.

The flames were put out for New Day in which the band and their dancers performed a parade around the stage in whimsical costumes. Think Alice in Wonderland meets Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. It’s a visual feast and your eyes don’t know where to look next, even from my seat up in the gods.

Next up, Mark took lead vocals for Shine, but there was no sign of my favourite Mark song, Babe. (One of these days I’m also hoping he’ll dust off that Johnson’s Baby Powder crop top from Relight My Fire too.)

By this point we were all well and truly reliving our youth so it was perfect-timing for a sing-a-long to Back For Good.

Despite there being only three fifths of the band remaining, old school hit Pray was a real highlight. Robbie and Jason who? They even busted out the dance moves from back in the day, despite their knees probably creaking a little more now than they used to.

Though we couldn’t all get on our knees to pray, we could join in for Never Forget as Howard took lead vocals in front of a sea of out-stretched arms.

With such a hefty back catalogue of songs to get through there wasn’t as much chatting to the crowd as on previous tours.

Howard thanked everyone and congratulated NUFC on their promotion and passed on his commiserations to SAFC, which elicited the only (faux) boos of the night.

But the band still interact more than most acts and they seemed genuinely humbled to still be touring all these years later.

As the night came to an end, more thanks came our way, as well as for the 174 people who tour on the road with them - putting on a production on a scale like this must be no mean feat.

“I want you to do us all a favour and put your phones in the air,” they said as they closed with Rule the World. When I went to my first Take That gig it was all lighters in the air. This time I may have been swaying with my iPhone, but it felt like those teenage years were just yesterday.

•The Wonderland tour will be screened live from the O2 to cinemas on Friday, June 9, including Empire Cinema Sunderland, Cineworld Dalton Park, Customs House South Shields and Cineworld Boldon. Book tickets here