The Band (UK Tour), Grand Opera House, Belfast | Review


The Band (UK Tour)
Grand Opera House, Belfast
Reviewed on Tuesday 13th November 2018 by Damien Murray
★★★★

Take the story of 5 teenage boyband fans from 1993 

Take the women they turn out to be some 25 years later 

Take the boyband they adore 

… oh, and Take That – or at least a selection of their greatest hits – and you are getting close to some of the magical ingredients of this most enjoyable evening of musical theatre. 

Superbly directed by Kim Gavin and Jack Ryder, aided by a strong team of equally imaginative creatives (particularly Jon Bausor’s Design and Patrick Woodroffe’s Lighting Design), there is so much more to the success of this intriguing musical than one would imagine. 

Of course, it is not the first time that the music of one of the world’s most popular boybands has been brought to the theatrical stage, but this production demonstrates how it should be done. 

Cleverly written by Our House writer, Tim Firth, who again captures the mood and nuances of a particular community (this time, working class Northerners) in the same way that the great Willy Russell highlighted the highs and lows of a Liverpool family as they grew up in the classic musical, Blood Brothers, this show also uses comedy and tragedy to bring life’s dark and shade to us in an evening of emotional ups and downs. 


Rather than opting for the easier and more commonly used concert-format to give a platform for the popular music, this production is unique in that it is not a traditional jukebox musical, nor is it a tribute act to Take That, but rather an engaging and believable story-based show with many surprises about a group of female fans who grow older and grow apart, before reuniting, like their beloved boyband, many years later. 

Apart from some impressive production numbers of the type Take That are famous for and the perfect vocals and harmonies of ‘The Band’ themselves –AJ Bentley, Nick Carsberg, Curtis T Jones, Yazdan Qafouri and Sario Solomon– in re-workings of the well-loved hits, the key to the success here lies in the fact that the songs are all so cleverly integrated within the story without sounding overtly contrived. 

Musical director, John Donovan, and his, mostly hidden, on-stage 5-piece band of musicians is always sympathetic to the story, while providing solid support to the spot-on vocals of The Band and to its enthusiastic dancing as Kim Gavin’s energetic take on Take That’s choreography is brought to life, complete with iconic positioning and poses. 

As if the boys in The Band don’t work hard enough performing all 18 songs and their associated dance moves, they also have to deal with numerous quick changes and the playing of many extras throughout. 

Having always been known for respecting their fans, it is not surprising that this show is not about Take That (they are not even mentioned in the show), but – like a present to their loyal fans – they opted to make the show about a group of fans and the fun and friendship that ensued through the shared experience of fandom. 


We follow them from their hormone-filled teenage years (when they are played by Faye Christall, Katy Clayton, Rachelle Diedericks, Sarah Kate Howarth and Lauren Jacobs) to an unexpected reunion when they are all forty-something (and played by Rachel Lumberg, Alison Fitzjohn, Emily Joyce and Jayne McKenna). 

Providing universally great performances throughout, the members of this precious sisterhood reveal many stories, secrets and surprises … not least the fact that life did not turn out as expected for any of them. 

This is a clever plot as many Take That fans in the audience can readily identify with some of the circumstances, characters, problems and stories being portrayed on stage. 

In contrast to the complicated lives of the ladies, Martin Miller gives a nice understated performance of the simple life led by Jeff, while Andy Williams is outstanding in a series of comic cameos. 

While musical highlights include the moving rendition of A Million Love Songs, the production number, Greatest Day, and the poignant Back For Good, other songs like Could It Be Magic, Patience, Relight My Fire and Rule The World all stand out. 


This fast-paced production also provides some memorable moments like the Roman Chariot scene, the breakable statues in Prague, the aeroplane that becomes a giant glitter ball, the use of a large time-related teletext projection at the start, which progressed to a large digital billboard for the start of Act 2, and the Act 1 finale scene when the aeroplane takes-off over the audience with believable noise and wind effects for those in the front stalls. 

Overall, it is easy to see why this is such a great girlie night out for fans of Take That, but it is so much more for, even if you are neither female nor a fan, you will still enjoy this as it is essentially a great night out for anyone. 

This engaging, endearing and entertaining production may provide a night of harmonies, hormones and hilarity… but, more than anything, it has heart! 

The Band runs at the Grand Opera House until Sat 24 Nov, 2018

Photo credit: Matt Crockett

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