REVIEW: The Band (The Manchester Opera House, Manchester)

Faye Christall as Young Rachel (centre) with Five To Five as The Band in The Band, credit Matt Crockett
Upstaged Rating: 

Huge crowds gathered outside of Manchester’s Opera House this week for the press night of The Band, the new musical written by Tim Firth, featuring the music of Take That. Many Take That fans had queued outside for hours in the hope that they would catch a glimpse of co-producers Gary Barlow, Howard Donald and Mark Owen on the red carpet.

This is not just a musical for Take That groupies, but it’s a musical for anybody who grew up with a boyband. This is a musical which celebrates the music of Take That and so much more besides. Littered with warm nostalgia from the outset – fond memories of Top of The Pops, reading your weekly issues of Smash Hits and the days when we covered every inch of our bedroom wall in posters.

This musical is really very special and the standing ovations at every performance in Manchester so far are a testament to that.

The play tells the story of five friends. We are first introduced to them as teenagers in 1992 before the fast forward button is pressed and we see them reunited as 40-something women desperate to rekindle the feelings of their youth.

The show opens with a teenage Rachel (Faye Christall) setting the scene for her love of The Band. It’s as if through listening to their music The Band really come to life in her bedroom as she gets ready for school. Her older self, played by Rachel Lumberg, looks on fondly as she remembers her youth.

Packed with stellar performances from all of the characters from both eras. And perhaps what is most striking to me, is that these characters are completely accessible as real women. Heather as a teenage rebel (Katy Clayton) contests to shock her friends with the biggest revelation as her older self (Emily Joyce) twenty-five years later. The super fit could-be Olympic diver, Claire (Sarah Kate Howarth) has to face her pals years later, after an unhealthy relationship with food.

The Five to Five lads, stars of BBC talent show Let it Shine, sparkle in every scene that they are in. With their stunning harmonies, they do not detract from the narrative but fully showcase the wonderful soundtrack and celebrate the music of Take That.

Jon Bauser’s stage design is phenomenal – the transition between the two eras is the slickest that I have ever seen. Complete with pyrotechnics, Relight My Fire is a real showstopper when we see the girl’s bus ride home spectacularly transform into a raging chariot. The whole theatre singing the words to the Take That floor-filler, the atmosphere electric.

Ultimately it is the memorable and loveable female characters that shine on stage – the music just makes them sparkle even brighter. 

The Band is a complete triumph. This musical tugs hard at your heartstrings and tickles your funny bone. And the good news is that co-producers David Pugh and Dafydd Rogers announced that the musical will tour for another year following the huge demand for tickets. Go and get yours!

-Kristy Stott

The Band runs at Manchester’s Opera House until 30th September 2017 before transferring to Sheffield’s Lyceum Theatre from 4th-14th October 2017. The tour continues through until July 2018 and you can check out the tour dates and venues here.

PREVIEW: THE BAND at The Manchester Opera House OPENS TOMORROW

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There is just over twenty-four hours to go until the most eagerly awaited new musical – written by the award-winning Tim Firth (The Girls- Musical 2015) and featuring the music of Take That – goes in front of The Manchester Opera House audience for the first time.

The show begins in Manchester tomorrow, 8th September with national press night on Tuesday 26 September.

THE BAND is a new musical about what it’s like to grow up with a boyband. For five 16-year-old friends in 1992, ‘the band’ is everything. Fast forward twenty-five years on and we are reunited with the group of friends, now 40-something women, as they try once more to fulfil their dream of meeting their heroes.

The Band is being played by young performers AJ Bentley, Nick Carsberg, Curtis T Johns, Yazdan Qafouri and Sario Solomon, who, as Five to Five, won BBC’s Let It Shine and the chance to star in the musical.

THE BAND Five to Five © Jay Brooks
Five to Five © Jay Brooks

The Band will be running at The Manchester Opera House from Friday 8th September all the way through till 30th of September, before embarking on a major UK tour until July 2018. Excitement is building fast with advance box office sales already topping a record-breaking £10MILLION.

Tickets for this hotly-anticipated show are available to book online from or by calling the box office on 0844 871 3018 (fees may apply).

For full tour listings please click here.

Our Favourite Productions of 2016


With all of the big Christmas shows in full swing, it feels like a good time to look back at the highlights of a busy year for theatre in Manchester. Here are Upstaged Manchester’s theatrical highlights of 2016. Which shows would make your list?

 Wit at The Royal Exchange

Julie Hesmondhalgh’s portrayal of Dr Vivian Bearing, an American Professor who finds herself diagnosed with advanced metastatic ovarian cancer, was striking and raw – nothing short of magnificent. Cancer is a hard subject matter to tackle on stage, especially in a performance as honest as this. Wit had everything. Powerful enough to make some cry and poignant enough to make everyone laugh, think and discuss.

The Girls at The Lowry Theatre

The Girls at The Lowry, Salford © John Swannell
© John Swannell


I am just so pleased that The Girls is on its way to the West End and is set to open at London’s Phoenix Theatre from January 2017. The collaboration between Gary Barlow and Tim Firth is a perfect recipe for success. Hilarious and heartbreaking all at the same time, I spent most of Act 2 looking through a blur because my eyes were so teary from laughing and crying at the same time. Just fabulous.

Husbands & Sons at The Royal Exchange

Husband’s & Sons had the perfect line-up of creatives and performers – all of the best in the field working together on one show. Director Marianne Elliott, of War Horse and Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, at the helm of a truly phenomenal cast – including Ann-Marie Duff and Louise Brealey. Fused with Bunny Christie’s ingenious design, Husband’s & Sons was heartfelt and gritty. So good, I wanted to watch it all over again.

The Encounter at HOME

A strikingly different theatre experience to anything that I have witnessed before. Every member of the audience is issued with a set of headphones and using cutting edge audio technology  is transported to the Amazonian rainforest and into the head of Loren McIntyre, a stranded photojournalist. The Encounter is gripping,  an adventure story which gets inside your head. Literally.

Parade at Hope Mill Theatre

I always enjoy James Baker’s productions massively – with every show he raises the bar of the Manchester Fringe Theatre scene a little higher. Parade was nothing short of a triumph. The dimly lit, eerie walls of Manchester’s newest performance space, Hope Mill Theatre added a further dimension to the production – intimate and powerful, something quite special.

Origins at The Lowry Theatre

Origins by Animikii Theatre. Developed with The Lowry.
Origins by Animikii Theatre.
Developed with The Lowry.

An intense new piece of physical theatre by Animikii Theatre Company exploring the story of the world’s first murderer: the killing of Cain by his brother Abel. Captivating storytelling communicated only through movement and sound. Adam Davies and Charles Sandford are highly skilled performers and with every detail loaded to perfection, Animikii Theatre Company are certainly ones I’ll be watching out for in the future.


Rambert: A Linha Curva at The Lowry

Now in their 90th year and still leading the dance world with their innovative and exhilarating dance works. A Linha Curva is sensual, witty and terribly good. The dancers are faultless, moving alongside each other in a truly intoxicating display. Rambert may be 90 this year but they show no sign of standing still.

Matthew Bourne’s The Red Shoes at The Lowry

Matthew Bourne's The Red Shoes ~Ashley Shaw as Victoria Page~
Matthew Bourne’s The Red Shoes
~Ashley Shaw as Victoria Page~

The Red Shoes is a breathtaking balletic display – a beautifully tragic tale poignantly told. Terry Davies’ musical score, using the music of golden-age Hollywood, and Lez Brotherston’s ornate set and dazzling costumes ooze 1940’s glamour. Following it’s sell out run in 2016, it returns again to The Lowry in July 2017. So if you didn’t catch it this time round, get your ticket booked for next year!

Sweet Charity at The Royal Exchange

Kaisa Hammarlund in Sweet Charity © Richard Davenport
Kaisa Hammarlund in Sweet Charity
© Richard Davenport

With its irresistible Cy Coleman musical score, supervised by Nigel Lilley and directed by Mark Aspinall, played superbly by a live band; an ensemble that dazzle and a top-notch central performance from Kaisa Hammarlund – Derek Bond’s Sweet Charity is an absolute must-see. At the Royal Exchange until 28th January 2018 – there is still plenty of time to bag a ticket. You’re welcome.


A Streetcar Named Desire at The Royal Exchange

Sarah Frankcom’s adaptation of Tennessee Williams’  modern domestic tragedy, ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’, was an exhilarating piece of theatre that warranted much more than a five-week run. Maxine Peake’s effortless performance as the fallen Blanche DuBois was every bit as riveting and worthy of acclaim as her predecessors, Vivien Leigh and Gillian Anderson.


GM Fringe 2016: Fast Fringe at The Dancehouse Theatre

The ‘GM Fringe 2016: Fast Fringe’ show was by far the most memorable comedy that I have enjoyed this year. The selection box of comedians kept the show fresh, each offering a diverse style of comedy that was sure to please all audience members. The Fast Fringe is a brilliant way to sample and discover different comedians, along with guaranteed laughs.

Merry Christmas to each and every one of you – thank you for all of your support this year. 

Wishing you all the best in 2017.

-Kristy Stott

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REVIEW – The Girls (The Lowry)

The Girls at The Lowry, Salford © John Swannell
The Girls at The Lowry, Salford
© John Swannell
Date: 19 January 2016
Upstaged Rating: 

Get a ticket and go and see The Girls. It is a phenomenal production. A thunderous applause and a well deserved standing ovation greeted the passionate performers and production crew on the press night. Being able to witness everybody around you in the stalls leap to their feet, cheering and clapping is a rare occurrence and a worthy testimony to show how fabulous The Girls really is. Just go.

The Girls is a heartwarming, super charming and quintessentially English new musical inspired by the true story of Yorkshire’s real Calendar Girls – a group of Women’s Institute members who, in memory of one of their husbands, produce a nude calendar to raise money for Leukaemia Research. This new musical charts the journey of a group of ordinary ladies as they achieve something incredible and explores the effect that their strength has on everyone around them.

The writing collaboration between the master of popular songwriting, Gary Barlow and Tim Firth who wrote the film and the play for Calendar Girls, is a perfect recipe for success. Add some outstanding performers to the mix and you have a musical which is not only highly entertaining but one which fully connects with its audience. Hilarious and heartbreaking all at the same time, I spent most of Act 2 looking through a blur because my eyes were so teary from laughing and crying at the same time.

Robert Jones’ set design of olive green drawers and cupboards is suggestive of quaint, rural England. Providing the perfect canvas for the action to unfold, whether indoors or on a Yorkshire hill top, in this close-knit and supportive community.

Tim Firth, Gary Barlow & the original Calendar Girls credit Matt Crockett
The Original Calendar Girls     ~The Girls at The Lowry, Salford~   – Credit Matt Crockett


This production is packed full of superb musical numbers with that unmistakeable Barlow hook, the lyrics are loaded with wit and most importantly we can relate to them. ‘Who Wants a Silent Night?’ is delivered with pizzazz by parish organist and single mother Cora (Claire Machin). Retired school teacher Jessie (Sara Kestelman) sings a poignant and uplifting ballad about growing older, ‘What Age Expects’ which was a highlight for me. With tunes so catchy and memorable many of the audience left humming and singing their way out of the theatre.

Joanna Riding is outstanding as Annie – putting on a brave face as her husband John (James Gaddas) battles against cancer. Their partnership on stage is believable and touching; humorous and real – providing the hope and inspiration for the calendar girls extraordinary triumph. Claire Moore gives an energetic, brave and brilliant performance as close friend Chris – she is immediately likeable, defiant and loyal – she is not afraid to speak out against the traditional Women’s Institute values, but she does so with humour and conviction which the audience laugh, clap and cheer along with.

The leader of the Women’s Institute Marie, played admirably by Harriett Thorpe, struggles to get the women to fall in line with her ideas. Ex air-hostess and golf enthusiast Celia played brilliantly by Vivien Parry and struggling alcoholic Ruth, played with expert timing by Debbie Chazen complete the line-up. The tightly woven sub-plot featuring Chris’ son Danny (Ben Hunter), love interest Jenny (Chloe May Jackson) and his best friend Tommo (Josh Benson) gives a further injection of comedy and shows the effect that the women’s bravery and influence can have on the younger generation.

The Girls is a fantastic musical – I really hope that it gets a well-deserved airing in the West End – but don’t just take my word for it – go see for yourselves.







-Kristy Stott

The Girls is at The Lowry until Saturday 30th January 2016 and you can get your tickets here.