The Band – Review – Hull New Theatre
By Roger Crow, March 2018
The ‘big stupid grin’ is that rarest of things. It happens when I’m watching a show or film where everything clicks. Great cast, script, set, music. You get the picture. The BSG usually sets in after a minute and if the project is worthy enough, chances are it won’t leave until the poignant moment all great shows or films need.
My introduction to The Band, Tim Firth’s bittersweet comedy musical, came with Let It Shine, the BBC series in which Gary Barlow and company searched for five lads to play the ‘stars’ of the stage show.
Okay, there is a caveat to that because as great as they are, the real stars are the teenage girls who bond and obsess over the northern pop icons that offer an escape from real life. And later their middle-aged versions (Alison Fitzjohn, Emily Joyce, Rachel Lumberg and Jayne McKenna) who reflect on happy memories, promises and loss.
“Hard not to be stunned”
Regardless of the fact this is a jukebox musical, as reductive as that label is, the songs we all grew up with are merely the icing on an impressive cake. Firth’s script is a warm-hearted tale which reminds me of classic Victoria Wood. Had lead protagonist Rachel and her long-term partner burst into a version of ‘The Ballad of Barry and Freda’, I wouldn’t have been surprised.
Obviously they don’t, but their romance is just part of the stage sorcery. Yes, it could be magic and rest assured, more Take That puns will be popping up in a bit.
As with his work on Bat Out of Hell, production designer Jon Bausor plays another blinder with his clever set. A screen in the first few seconds is dispensed with so fast, it’s hard not to be stunned. And as with Bat, this is a show millions have waited a lifetime for. As the first dance at my wedding was ‘Rule the World’, I’m one of them.
“Flood of emotions”
The show kicks off, and my big stupid grin isn’t far behind. What’s remarkable is the range of emotion Firth creates. Belly laughs one minute, heartbreak the next. A flood of emotions is guaranteed.
As our grown up heroines embark on a trip to Prague, the cast’s rendition of ‘Shine’, complete with a genius jumbo jet set, is one of many highlights.
I’m knocked out as the curtain drops for half time. As I’ve known for a while that Gary, Mark and Howard are making an appearance at Hull New Theatre, the excitement is almost palpable. When the real Take That turns up, for the first time in Hull in more than a quarter of a century, needless to say the crowd goes wild. (My wife played a major part in making that dream a reality, so to say I’m proud is an understatement).
“Thrilled by the calibre of the production”
A special nod also needs to go to co-director Jack Ryder, the unassuming genius who together with Kim Gavin, ensures the whole thing ticks over like a well oiled machine. As enthusiastic as Jack was about the project in our chat a few weeks ago, words and advertising can’t convey that goosebump-inducing electricity.
Standout moments such as The Band recreating the Progress cover is phenomenal, while the hysteria they generate with the musical numbers ensures we, the audience, are as much a part of the cast as they are.
Every paying customer wants value for money, and as one of them I’m thrilled by the calibre of the production. It’s such a great show I’m ready for a second viewing. The Band is an instant classic that demands repeat viewings.
Shine it does.
images: Matt Crockett