Knowing very little about The Band, apart from the Take That and Tim Firth connection, I was taken by surprise by the show’s ability to completely floor you emotionally. How can a show that includes the music of a 90’s boy band do that?
I was an indie fan in the early 1990s and that my week revolved around getting the NME and the Melody Maker. I went to an all-girls school and we poured scorn on each other’s music choices – especially on Take That fans – but secretly, I couldn’t help but find their songs irresistible. Who could forget Take That, writhing around on a beach with mirrors? With the adults seemingly depressed by a recession and war in the Gulf, this music provided total escapism for anyone. Regardless of musical genres, I think back to myself as a teenage girl and can utterly relate to the sense of escapism and the ability to get through tough times in everyday life that music can give you.
The audience arrived to a stage composed of a Ceefax news screen from 1993 (which announces the formation of the European Union, among other stories) before opening with adult Rachel, framing the story and casting us back to her teenage years and obsession with The Band. In a brilliant sequence from waking up to dressing, we see Rachel cope with a difficult home life, music punctuated by the discord of her parents’ raging argument; her response is to entreat the boys to drown this out: ‘Louder boys…Louder.’
Moving to the school lockers, it’s all so familiar: the group of friends who are so different but gel together with hilarious results. Rachel’s closest friend is Debbie, who thrills the other four girls by announcing she won tickets for them to see The Band. Understandably ecstatic, the audience too get an arena-type boy band experience with a pumping medley of Take That’s hits from The Band, the real-life winners of BBC’s ‘Let It Shine’ talent search for a new boy band. The effects are impressive with physical, energetic dance routines with the inevitable leather-look waistcoats thrown in too. The Band are brilliant performers – not easy when you are doing a back catalogue of arguably the most popular boy band ever. A special mention must go to Every Dave, who pops up in various guises as a grumpy older, well, Every Dave adding to the humour of the show.
The interaction between Rachel, Debbie, Heather, Claire and Zoe captures the essence of teenage friendships so well: the jokes, the ridicule, the promises made, the support given to each other. But the show’s shocking moment part-way through makes sure that this is no nostalgic look back with some gratuitous Take That hits thrown in. The tone change is expressed by Rachel as being like ‘nettles’ and when terrible times hit ‘the nettles in the songs come out’.
Songs like ‘Back for Good’ take on an entirely different resonance as they become about self-reconciliation and accepting the discord between past dreams that might have seemed naïve or fanciful but could still filter into your life years later and make it joyful. I’ve only ever heard this as a song about a romantic relationship but the powerful scene on the bus, revisiting the night 25 years before when they saw their first gig, with the girls and their older versions of themselves facing each other was incredibly emotional. There was a lot of sniffing in the audience.
It was refreshing to see that the girls had grown into real women, not neatly airbrushed. They were flawed and their lives hadn’t followed the plans they had. How many of our lives do? But in looking back to those times and the hope, optimism and excitement that your teenage years can bring, the show managed to remind you of those feelings and to invite you to accept yourself as you are.
I guarantee that whether you loved Take That’s music or not, you will enjoy this show and the reminder that music from your formative years can transport you to other times and places, many years on.