The Band – Review – Manchester Opera House
The Band – Review
Manchester Opera House, September 2017
by Rachel Crow
Having been a Take That fan for 25 years, I’ll admit I’m a little apprehensive as I take my seat at the Manchester Opera House for the opening night of The Band, the new musical by Tim Firth, starring Five to Five, the winners of BBC One’s Let it Shine.
The curtain on the stage depicts a 90s-style ‘portable’ TV displaying Ceefax with some of the top stories of the day. It’s a great talking point as the audience read about the Euro, Jurassic Park and Bill Clinton taking office and try to recall the exact year – was it 1992 or 3? Thankfully that question is soon put to bed as the curtain falls and the stage bursts into life. A 41-year-old Rachel, played by Rachel Lumberg, introduces her 16-year-old self as Take That top the charts for the first time with ‘Pray’ and we get the first glimpse into the life of a ‘band’ fan.
Together with her friends Debbie, Heather, Zoe and Claire, Rachel takes us on an emotional journey from her bedroom and the school locker room when Top of the Pops was unmissable Thursday night TV, to a girly break in Prague some 25 years later.
Take That have been quick to say the show is not about them and while there is no doubt that ‘the band’ bear a striking resemblance to the original five-piece and the live gig moments recreate some of their landmark performances, they are right. This is a story of love, loss, music and above all else, friendship.
There are a couple of little hiccups with temperamental sets misbehaving and a microphone or two seemingly dropping out momentarily but, teething problems aside, this is a slick production with clever design, direction, lighting and choreography that envelops the audience from the word go.
All the hits you’d expect from a Take That musical are here, as well as a few unexpected inclusions. ‘Shine’, in an airport, is gloriously fun and cheeky and leaves me grinning like the Cheshire cat’s long lost cousin, while a beautifully moving rendition of ‘Rule The World’ renders me a blubbering wreck.
The success of The Band rests on the chemistry between the cast members: the audience needs to believe that these girls are friends and thankfully they hit the jackpot with these guys – you get the feeling they’re enjoying themselves as much, if not more so, than the audience.
Five to Five are surprisingly good as the ubiquitous ‘band’ performing the soundtrack of a million girls’ youths. It seems a little unfair then to single one out for special praise but Nick Carsberg is simply mesmerising, visually and vocally.
Similarly, Rachel Lumberg and Faye Christall are a formidable duo as teen and middle-aged Rachel both giving outstanding performances. Credit must also go to Rachelle Deidricks who despite not featuring in the story for long manages to evoke the empathy of the entire audience, even through the annoying distraction of a sea of mobile phones turned to torch mode and held aloft.
It’s testament to the craftsmanship of the writing which is witty and thought provoking (no mean feat), that the show clearly strikes a chord with the full house on opening night. Men and women alike nod their heads or hide their faces as they recognise their own mischievous paths to this point. However, the real beauty of The Band is that any fan of any group anywhere in the world can relate to it.
In a time when arts funding is once again under fire and new British musicals are few and far between, The Band is a real triumph. A truly heart warming comedy musical deserving of its standing ovation and more – I for one cannot wait for a repeat performance.