INTERVIEW: Alison Fitzjohn Talks THE BAND

Alison Fitzjohn as Claire in THE BAND

Alison Fitzjohn as Claire in THE BAND. Photo Credit: Matt Crockett

Alison Fitzjohn talks to Frankly My Dear UK about taking on the role of Claire in THE BAND and why the new musical appeals to so many people

Following praise from critics and audiences across the UK and a successful run in London’s West End, the fastest selling musical theatre tour of all time – THE BAND – makes a welcome return to the North West this week as part of an extended UK tour.

Written by Tim Firth and featuring the music of Take That, THE BAND follows five school friends for who ‘the band’ is everything until a tragic event turns their world upside down. 25 years later, the friends reunite to try once more to fulfil their dream of meeting the boyband whose music became the soundtrack to their lives.

Ahead of its run at Salford’s The Lowry, Alison Fitzjohn talks to Donna Kelly of Frankly My Dear UK about her character Claire and why she believes THE BAND appeals to people of all ages.

Frankly My Dear UK (FMD): Can you start by telling us about THE BAND and the character that you play?

Alison Fitzjohn (AF): The basic story is there is a group of friends who love music and love a particular band. This group of friends are united by this love, they have this massive bond and are such great friends. Then something tragic happens within the show and they all go their separate ways as you so often do in life. 25 years later, one of the characters wins the competition to go and see the band again and something inside makes her ask all of her other friends that she used to know and I play one of the friends. There is actually a lot more layers to it than one might realise initially. It’s all about life, friendship, what we wanted to do, what we have done, what we haven’t done and our relationship with music. It’s universal to everyone who’s ever loved music or a band, it doesn’t have to be Take That.

FMD: You’ve got an extensive background in theatre, what appealed to you about this particular production?

AF: The thing that appealed to me was the fact it was Take That [laughs]. I was a big fan of Take That and just the chance of being in the show, I just knew it was going to be huge. It’s so unique in the way in which you get a gig, you get a musical and you get a really emotional story. I can’t really think of another musical that necessarily does that. That kind of pulled me to it. Also, the character that I play, I just bloody love her. When I read the character brief when I was asked to audition, I just got her. This was something I wanted to portray on stage. My character has a physicality from when she was younger so different body shapes on stage is just so important I think in today’s age of diversity so that was really appealing as well. Plus the chance to have Mark Owen was always appealing to me [laughs]. Also Howard, Gary and Robbie… and Jason if he wants to come along.

FMD: The show is very much about the girls and their friendship, how have you worked with the rest of the cast to get that chemistry right?

AF: Tim Firth is an amazing writer and he said that’s what he’s looking for in the audition process. There are three groups in the show – there are the boys in the band, the group of 16-year-olds and the group 25 years later – and the chemistry within those groups, that is what they were looking for. We actually did a three-week workshop in Manchester where, as well as the ability to act, they were looking for that chemistry. So many people comment on the chemistry of the young girls, the chemistry of the boys and the chemistry of us. I also think Marc Frankum, the Casting Director of the show, he’s just done an amazing job of pairing us with our younger selves.

Jayne McKenna, Emily Joyce, Rachel Lumberg and Alison Fitzjohn in THE BAND

Jayne McKenna, Emily Joyce, Rachel Lumberg and Alison Fitzjohn in THE BAND. Photo: Matt Crockett

How about the younger cast? I believe Sarah Kate Howarth plays Young Claire. How do you ensure that the character remains consistent despite the movement of time? Is it something you work on together?

I think obviously it helps that we look similar. It is something that we did work on a bit more. I know that I watched Sarah Kate and she watched me so we did work at that physicality more. Tim Firth again, he is so brilliant, he put things in the script to connect them. There are little things that connect them so that, as well as the physicality that we worked on as well, makes for a really plausible younger and older self.

FMD: Who was your obsession growing up? I think I read you’re a massive Take That fan, is that true?

AF: I loved Take That. I have to admit, although Take That fans are going to absolutely hate me for saying this, I also liked East 17 which was not the ‘done’ thing. I wasn’t able to afford to go to any concerts so I loved them from afar really. I had the sticker book and the posters on the wall but it’s not really my story if you know what I mean? I relate to parts of it but others not. I did sneak out of school to see Love City Groove so I did the whole sneaking out thing.

FMD: Have you met the boys? How actively involved in the production are they?

AF: They are really, really actively involved. Gary, Howard and Mark come really often and are really involved. Robbie is more from afar but he came and saw us whilst we were in the West End and actually loved it, he raved about it. They are so supportive, it is unreal. What I hoped they would be, they are 200% more than that. They are just so genuine, they come into the dressing rooms and we just have a real laugh with them. I actually think that’s a credit to them they stayed so real when they are so big. They are so supportive of the show and bring their families. They wanted it to be exactly what it is I think, that is why they are so proud of it. That’s why the audiences love it and they keep coming back.

FMD: A lot of the audience are loyal Take That fans who travel from venue to venue to see the show. What has the reception been like? You must feel a connection to the audience like no other show?

AF: 100%. The fans of Take That have just embraced the show. It’s just amazing the connection that we have with them. It’s really important to me to get them to know them because I’m playing them in the show. They are so great and just so lovely. They’ve almost become THE BAND musical fans as well as Take That fans. We’ve had people have come 50 times which is crazy, but even if they just come once and enjoy the show, that’s enough.

FMD: Due to its overwhelming success, the tour has been extended and you’re now in the final stint. What is it about this particular show that just seems to appeal to people?

AF: I think that it’s about real people and it’s relatable. Everyone can think ‘that’s me’. I think you’ve got the boys who won the TV show who are absolutely amazing. You’ve got a live band on stage who are fantastic musicians. You’ve got a beautiful and emotional story which the audience can totally identify with. It’s just a great night out. People can come and feel like they’ve had an experience. I’m really proud of the fact that a lot of people in the audience have never come to see a theatre show before. In Manchester, 52% of the audience had never been to the theatre before so I think there is obviously something about the show that is bringing people to the theatre. That is fantastic for the theatre because not only are they loving it but they are buying tickets for other shows.

THE BAND runs at Salford’s The Lowry from 16 to 26 January 2019.