Theatre Review: The Band - Edinburgh Playhouse ✭✭✭✭

Review by Graeme Shield

I bloody love a megamix.

This thought screamed through my heart during the finale encore of ‘The Band’. Fully in touch with my closeted 90’s inner child, there I was in the Edinburgh Playhouse, singing and dancing along (fully encouraged, naturally) to an unashamedly indulgent medley of Take That’s most well known hits, as if I was living my fantasy as the 6th member of the boyband.

Tim Firth’s clever take on the jukebox musical sensibly avoids shoehorning pop songs into a camp or throwaway plot and mostly avoids cliches.  Instead, it tells the unexpectedly poignant and very touching story of how music & friendship intersects our lives. The story focuses on one hilarious group of 16-year old girls on their way to see ‘the band’ (a fateful concert that will change their lives) and the same group of equally hilarious women 25 years later.

While the songs are largely background noise to emotional experiences or memories, there are moments where everything comes together beautifully. ‘Back For Good’, for example, is gorgeously sang by the women and delivered like a two-way conversation with their own selves, the women yearning for the simplicity & innocence of friendship when they had were younger.

Kim Gavin & Jack Ryder’s staging is effective - the former lending his expertise to create effective moments where the band perform with a proper stadium tour feel, and the latter drawing out hilarity and pathos in the performances of an excellent cast.

And boy, are they excellent. The lead women of Rachel Lumberg, Alison Fitzjohn, Emily Voice and Jayne McKenna are brilliant, each capturing the essence of their younger selves but with the added sparkle only life experience can bring. Similarly, their younger counterparts Faye Christall, Katy Clayton, Sarah Kate Howarth and Lauren Jacobs were uncomfortably recognisable as 16 year olds enjoying the most of the 1990s! Additionally, Rachelle Diedericks leads her scenes with warmth & spirit, while Andy Williams threatens to nick the entire show from under their noses as the hilarious ‘Every Dave’.

As for the band - not named as ‘Take That’ in the show but played by the band Five To Five, chosen as part of BBC’s Let It Shine - Curtis T Johns, Sario Solomon, AJ Bentley, Yazden Qafouri and Nick Carsberg are equally deserving of praise for their vocal quality - both individually and collectively great - and their sheer stamina - their choreography, costume & set changes are crucial to keep the production moving. It’s been a long tour to this point, and they must be absolutely knackered, but it doesn’t show.

With humour, heart and poignancy by the bucketload, this musical collection of Take That’s best known hits - delivered by a fantastic ensemble - is miles better than it has any jukebox musical has any right to be. It really feels like accessible musical theatre for everyone, which is important.

Make sure you take your best singing voice, your tissues and your inner child for a great night!