Theatre Review: THE BAND – The Lowry, Salford

Yazdan Qafouri, Curtis T Johns, Nick Carsberg, AJ Bentley and Sario Solomon in THE BAND.

Yazdan Qafouri, Curtis T Johns, Nick Carsberg, AJ Bentley & Sario Solomon in THE BAND. © Matt Crockett

Warm, funny and affectionate, THE BAND successfully captures what it means to be a music fan

I remember the day Take That announced they were splitting up like it was yesterday. It was 13 February 1996 and I was 12 years old. I remember seeing girls crying on the TV, not really understanding what all the fuss was about. A few years later, when I fell in love with PJ and Duncan (I know, please don’t judge), I finally began to realise the power that music wields over people. It’s that very love which inspired Tim Firth to write his new musical THE BAND.

Based around the songs of Take That, THE BAND follows the bittersweet story of five school friends – Rachel, Debbie, Claire, Zoe and Heather – who were once inseparable by their love for “the band”. Flicking between 1993 and present day, the musical sees the girls reunite after 25 years apart as they try once more to fulfil their dream of meeting their teenage idols whose music became the soundtrack to their lives.

It’s worth stating at this point that THE BAND is not the story of Take That but the story of their fans. Framed in the style of MAMMA MIA!, the band’s pop hits integrate into the story which puts the dramatic spotlight not on the boys, but on the female characters. Firth’s script radiates warmth, humour and a strong attention to detail including a nice nod to the cover of Take That’s Progress album. The female characters are also likeable with standout performances from Katy Clayton as a young Heather and Alison Fitzjohn as adult Claire.

Jayne McKenna, Rachel Lumberg, Emily Joyce & Alison Fitzjohn with Five To Five in THE BAND. Photo Matt Crockett

Jayne McKenna, Rachel Lumberg, Emily Joyce, Alison Fitzjohn & Five To Five in THE BAND. © Matt Crockett

Five to Five – the winners from BBC’s Let It Shine – play the non-specific titular ‘band’, looking and sounding the part. Under the fierce directorship of Jack Ryder and Kim Gavin, the baby-faced boys are certainly apt street dancers, pulling off Gavin’s robust dance routines with energy and enthusiasm.

But it is the music that the crowd has really to come to see with hits NEVER FORGET, BACK FOR GOOD, A MILLION LOVE SONGS, GREATEST DAY, THE FLOOD, RELIGHT MY FIRE and RULE THE WORLD all featuring. The songs have been creatively re-worked to fit into the plot and even Take That hits that you’ve heard a million times before – SHINE and THE GARDEN in particular – suddenly take on a whole new meaning thanks to new arrangements.

Yet, while it’s certainly hard to deny the hits of Take That as a great soundtrack, THE BAND is let down slightly by its weak plot which has a tendency to be over sentimental at times. The “band” is also oddly mute dialogue-wise and at times, struggle to get any real power behind some of the group’s bigger hits, mainly because of the style of the new arrangements.

That said, these are minor criticisms and on the whole, THE BAND is a warm, funny and affectionate jukebox musical about ageing, loss, friendship and nostalgia. More importantly, it successfully captures what it is to be a music fan, which is something that almost anyone of any age can relate to.

4 out of 5 stars

THE BAND runs at The Lowry, Salford until 26 January 2019.