The Band, Theatre Review
By Conor O’Neill
800 or so are finding their seats and much to my amazement, not all are menopausal women hoping to relive their teenage crushes. A wide variety of NI’s theatre going crowd have paid good money and there’s an excitement in the air that something big is going to happen. What? I can’t say; there’s that feeling of anticipation, like a migraine before a thunder storm; like having a great day only to nonchalantly read your stars the day after and begin questioning if Russel Grant’s been right all along.
Now the cynic in me, the old me who back in 1993 was listening to REM’s Automatic For The People, full of teenage angst and had little time for pretty boys wearing S & M outfits and having ‘wee girls’ collapsing at their feet, would have scorned at the more mature version of a cynic I’ve become. On paper this simply looks like a money making scheme, preying on nostalgia. Take That can’t be arsed to do the shows so many want to, so, hey, let’s do a reality TV show – channel chiefs love ‘em because they’re so cheap to make – and have the winners tour Take That hits for 40 quid a seat around the UK.
But there wasn’t a whiff of that from tonight’s show. Instead we were served a lovingly told tale of friendship, aspirations, some met, some left behind; unlikely outcomes, the march of time and much, much more. And best of all, a backdrop of top tunes throughout. Yes, it shames me to admit it but I knew at least 90% of their earlier stuff, if not the title, then at least the melody and chorus lyrics.
The mood is set before a note is struck, an actor graces the stage or even a subtle change of lighting. Among the hustle and bustle of people taking selfies, peeling off layers needed on these wet and windy Belfast nights, Ceefax slowly nudges up stats. The top ten. Friday, September 9th, 1993 Number 1 Take That Pray. Many in the crowd will remember that day. The TV listings appear next, news at 6. Local news 6.30, 7pm TOTP.
Young Rachel, pictured above, certainly remembered September 9th, 1993. Her and her buddies live, eat, and breathe Take That. Rach’s bedroom is a shrine to the golden boys. A welcome aside from her warring parents. Debbie is her closest friend, a natural dancer and an eternal optimist. Teenage notions of writing wishes on balloons and releasing them to make them come true is Debbie’s outlook on life. Then there’s the sporty one, Claire. A high diver with plans for Olympic glory, the tart, Heather, whose name is glorified on the rocks that overlook the gang’s north west English town. Every boy with a pulse has had it quickened by Heather up on those hills. And finally we have Zoe, the bookworm. Stereotypical writing one would perhaps presume. But Olivier winner Tim Firth is too wily for such lazy writing. Yes, he stuck with a tried and tested truth of covering all bases an appealing to a mass audience, but little nuances make this piece of musical theatre more than just a vague plot punctuated by big hits; every character is believable. We all know a Debbie or a Zoe.
A welcome surprise leads to a night of two tales. Firstly they have a ball, secondly, well, no spoilers here. The Band, as in the five who won BBC’s Let It Shine, don’t utter a word in the narrative. Yes, they do give outstanding dance routines, sing as you would expect of professional performers; all of whom have attended and excelled at one musical drama college or another. Choreographer Kim Gavin’s routines are brilliant and the live band, always a nice touch for musicals. The GOH’s stage is used to full effect, musicians appear on different tiers and add umphh at every turn.
There’s so many choice scenes and characters. The ‘Bud-Jet Airlines’ scene is one of the most memorable. A nosy through the program will have you wondering ‘just who the hell is this character ‘Every Dave’? There-in lies the joke: one moment he’s a former member of Spandau Ballet now bus driver, the next he’s a Czech peeler none too happy that Poseidon’s member has been ripped off.
25 years have gone by. Every character has changed. So has every one of the audience. Some probably weren’t old enough to remember Take that in their prime, but all have had a great night. There’s the ubiquitous medley, each character takes their bows, and for the first time in all the shows I’ve seen in the GOH, the audience is actively encouraged to hold their mobiles aloft like lighters at an Elton John gig. The irony being that back in 1993 Debbie, after recording Take That’s Pray onto tape by holding the thing to the tele and stating, “It’s 1993 Rach, we’re living in the modern age. Little gags like this run throughout the show.
I think I’ll read yesterday’s horoscope tomorrow! And maybe Russel will have vaguely stated opposite the Cancer Crab: “Today you’ll go on a journey. One you didn’t think you’d enjoy but with hindsight, you loved it.”
The Band runs until November 24th. To book tickets phone the box office on 02890 241919 or visit www.goh.co.uk