Take That Away

Rating: 3

The Band

by Richard Barber

As anyone who’s seen Jersey Boys, the gripping real-life story of the Four Seasons, can attest, there’s no need to impose a fictionalised story on the rise and fall and rise of a chart-topping group. Certainly, you’d have thought the presence of two alpha males in one band – Gary Barlow and Robbie Williams – would provide enough dramatic heft to a writer like Tim Firth, acclaimed for his small screen work (All Quiet on the Preston Front) and stage musicals (Calendar Girls, Kinky Boots).

And yet here we have a sentimental, sometimes cloyingly so, tale of five 16-year-olds (one of whom doesn’t make it into adulthood) whose hero worship of take that extends into their forties, the target age, I assume, of the intended audience.

When the adult Rachel wins a radio competition to go and see the boys play in Prague, she re-contacts Claire, Heather and Zoe to see if they’ll come, too. The Band refers to the pop group, the quartet of women and the rubber bracelets they wear round their wrists.

So how have they fared in the intervening 25 years? Rachel (Rachel Lumberg, in the best performance of the night) has matured plausibly into a woman scared of ultimate commitment to Jeff (Martin Miller), the legacy of her parents’ turbulent marriage.

Meanwhile, we’re asked to believe the formerly superfit high diver, Claire, has morphed into a morbidly obese adult, although she does have one of the best lines in the show. The women are discussing their attitude to sex. ‘I like to have sex once with men,’ says Claire (Alison Fitzjohn). ‘And then I eat them.’

As a teenager, Heather also spread her favours far and wide. At one point, the bookish Zoe is enthusing about training for a Duke of Edinburgh Award.

‘Heather ought to get a Duke of York Award,’ says someone.

‘Why?’ asks someone else.

‘Because she’s had 10,000 men.’ But not for one moment was I persuaded she’d have matured into Emily Joyce’s firmly middle-class lesbian. And whatever happened to her generous décolletage along the way?

What earns the show its third star is the music, of course. Barlow is a prodigiously gifted writer of pop anthems: A Million Love Songs, Back For Good, Patience, Rule the World, for example. There was a TV talent show, let it shine, to find the five young men who comprise the band. Only two of the originals were on show when I caught the musical in Wimbledon, which raises the slightly hellish prospect of take that clones proliferating, amoeba-like, across the land.

The Band is on tour across the UK and Ireland with a short season at London’s Theatre Royal Haymarket from 1 December to 12 January 2019: 020-7930 8800, www.thebandmusical.com