Tim Firth’s warmhearted musical about friendship is a joy from  start to finish. 

(c) Matt Crockett.

Ah 1993 – the year in which Bill Clinton was sworn in as President of the United States, Unforgiven won the Best Picture award at the Oscars – but also the year that Take That went to number one in the charts with the song ‘Pray’.

Tim Firth’s nostalgic and genuinely heartwarming new musical featuring the music of Take That is certainly plenty of fun from start to finish, but it is also tinged with sadness and regret that leads to some wonderful poignant moments to give the musical real heart.

The Band follows a gang of girls – best friends from school and all who have an obsession with the boy band that they are dedicated to following. But when a tragedy tears their friendship apart, they go their separate ways – until twenty five years later, circumstances bring them together again – and a chance to catch their favourite band live.

While the story perhaps is lacking in depth, there is no denying that it has been cleverly written to include many of Take That’s biggest hits – and works really well in doing so. In particular, the renditions of ‘Back For Good’ and ‘The Garden’ actually offer new meaning to the songs, working well within the context of the story. It also plays a lot on nostalgia for both the characters and the audience, with numerous references to many elements of the 90’s that brings the audience closer to the characters.

The production is directed with great energy and pace by Kim Gavin and Jack Ryder to allow the audience to be completely swept away and invested in the characters. But it is also the way in which the more poignant moments are framed – such as when the four friends find themselves in a police station, reflecting on how their lives are different from what they expected, that reveal see the strength of the bond between them all even after 25 years separation is particularly touching.

But it is also the amount of attention that has been given to the detail – for example in Kim Gavin’s choreography for ‘Pray’ – you get some glimpses of similarities to the original Take That dance moves from the original video that will delight fans of the band themselves. This kind of subtle detail allows the feeling of Take That’s presence and involvement but without distracting from the story at all.

Everything about this musical is simply relatable – particularly for anyone who has been a fan of a particular band. It is that sense of comfort and power of music that comes through vibrantly – as seen when the teenage friends excitedly discuss the band at school and going to see them in concert – we have all done that at least once in our lives.

Performance wise, there is great warmth and pleasure to be found from watching all of the cast. From Rachel Lumberg’s practical but self-doubting Rachel, Alison Fitzjohn’s warm hearted and funny Claire, Emily Joyce’s well intentioned and kind Heather and Jayne McKenna’s level headed Zoe – all make lovely contrasts to their 16 year old selves, showing how they have each developed beautifully. Meanwhile, Five to Five as The Band are great – providing some lovely harmonies – particularly during numbers such as ‘A Million Love Songs’ and ‘Rule the World’, while their dancing is wonderfully energetic.

Overall, The Band is a wonderfully nostalgic and good natured musical that successfully entertains from beginning to end.

By Emma Clarendon

The Band continues to play at the New Victoria Theatre until  the 23rd February. 

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐