When The Band kicked off its UK Tour at the end of last year, it was to much fanfare and reverie. Now fourteen months later it’s no surprise it has made it to the West End, and while the tour has definitely helped make it less rough around the edges, there’s little improvement in the overall production.
Initially billed as a ‘new musical’ it comes with no new music whatsoever, instead the hits of Take That are shoehorned in to a dismally predictable plot. Of course, for Take That fans (also known as ‘Thatters’) this will be literally music to their ears, and even as a casual Take That fan I was able to enjoy the hit parade that unfolded in front of me.
The story is not of the actual boyband, but acts as a vehicle to replay all their greatest hits. We follow a group of young girls, bonded by their love of ‘The Band’ (that’s the bands name) who grow up and grow apart, discover their lives aren’t what they hoped they would be and are reunited, again by their love of ‘The Band’.
So much is crammed in to the relatively short running time, you don’t know what emotion you’re supposed to be feeling at any given moment. Make no mistake, this is all about feeling the emotion, and it seems writer, Tim Firth has listed every heart-strings tugger and forced in a line or a scene to fit. And, when that line doesn’t force a feeling, it’s awkwardly to cue a song.
The female characters seem to have been lifted straight from the book of stereotypical women of the north, the 1960 edition. Downtrodden and miserable their lives are portrayed as practically worthless, and the only justification for them living is their love of a group of young boys who sing. The boys pop up at every available opportunity to belt out a Take That hit. You may remember them as Five to Five, the group brought together in the BBC talent show that was specifically made to cast ‘The Band’.
In fairness to the boys, they are excellent at what they do and I think I actually preferred their versions of the Take That songs to the originals. The female cast members also work wonders with their underdeveloped characters. At one point I almost forgot how banal the script was, as I was so engrossed in their performance.
Director, Jack Ryder has at least made the production look stunning, it’s big budget, over the top and thrilling to look at. There has been much celebration of the fact that over the course of its tour, The Band has attracted audiences visiting a musical for the first time, which is excellent news, we can only hope those audiences return to the theatre and experience a wider variety of musical theatre.
While as a musical The Band leaves a lot to be desired, you cannot deny that the audiences are loving every second of it. Each play of a song is met with screams of delight, and that heart-string tugging list pays off for the majority.
For a great many people this will be a fun night out, and may even lead them to reminisce about the days they would chase their own favourite boy band around the country. But as a musical it’s cliché and formulaic, spend your money seeing a decent tribute act, you’ll hear the exact same songs after all.