Thursday, 21 February 2019

REVIEW: The Band at the New Victoria Theatre in Woking

As the theatre fills, the curtain acts a projection screen upon which a classic 1993 television displays the latest events courtesy of Ceefax. Bill Clinton is the new President, a man of integrity with a wife who may have political ambitions of her own. 

It’s enough to tell us that there is truth and humour ahead, but Clinton’s elevation to the White House is not the big news of the day for 16-year old Rachel and her four besties, Debbie, Heather, Claire and Zoe. For them, the only story that matters is The Band are number one, which means lyrics and dance steps to learn and fantasies to share by the school lockers.

These are girls united by their love of The Band, each with her own future plan, to settle down, go to university, become a fashion designer, compete in the Olympics. They know their future paths will take them in different directions, The Band will always bring them back together. 

Of course, life never takes the expected path, and the best-laid plans can often come to nought! When the girls reunite some 25 years later, life has taken several unexpected turns. There is tragedy and tension, disappointment and despair. Will The Band carry them through?

The story is written by Tim Firth, whose previous stage successes include The Girls (a musical version of Calendar Girls co-written with Gary Barlow) and the Olivier Award-winning, Our House. He also has a string of TV and Movie credits including Calendar Girls, Kinky Boots, The Wedding Video, Money for Nothing, The Rottentrolls, The Flint Street Nativity and Preston Front. 

The music is all Take That, 18 hits from the original and comeback iterations of the boy band who ruled the world before One Direction were even a twinkle in Simon Cowell’s eye! It’s performed by The Band, 5 singers discovered via the primetime TV talent show, Let it Shine, supported by an excellent and largely unseen backing group. 

Wisely, the lads don’t try to be Take That, but they do manage to channel the charm and appeal that clearly appealed to the full house of mostly middle-aged women, who were keen to clap and sing along at every opportunity! They all performed well with good voices and slick dance routines; they looked great and managed to fit in as many costume changes as I can recall in any show.

The songs are skilfully woven into the story, but this isn’t a typical jukebox
musical. There is interaction between the actors and The Band with the songs providing an essential part of the narrative. 

The younger actors were all excellent, Faye Christall and Katy Clayton played for laughs without ever losing control and exuded enthusiasm, Rachelle Diedericks on her professional debut had great presence. 

In adult guise too, there was no weak link. Performances were first class across the board, with a good sprinkling of vulnerability and pathos added to the comedy. A special mention to Rachel Lumberg in the role of namesake Rachel, who delivered a performance of great sensitivity, light hearted one moment, tear jerking the next.

From a technical perspective, the sets, lighting and effects were very clever and changed from a bedroom to a school, a concert, a fountain a plane and a bus quickly, efficiently and effectively. The sound was perfect – not a word was lost and most importantly, the music sounded good.

The show maintains a good tempo and the finale had the entire audience on its feet, singing, dancing and clapping along. They went home happy and that is what this show is about. If you like the music of Take That, it’s a cracking night out. 

Rating: ★★★★
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