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.