IN the 1990s, when this story began, Take That was one of the biggest bands around, and after their reforming in 2006 after a lengthy absence, they are still big players. This show, featuring the greatest hits sung and danced by Kalifa Burton, Jamie Corner, Archie Durrant, Regan Gascoigne, and Alexandra O’Reilly, is also big.
But dig a little deeper and you discover that it is all done by smoke and mirrors. (The five boys are more dancers, and very good ones they are) than singers, and it is thanks to heavy intervention from sound designer Tony Gayle and his team that they, and the five musicians who make enough noise for a full symphony orchestra, that the vocal side of the numbers keeps up with the boys’ dance interpretation of Aaron Renfree’s stylish choreography.
Putting in a full evening’ shift, the boys also act as scene-shifters moving Lucy Osborne’s fundamentally two staircase set, and rearranging the props as the story moves over a 25 year period following five dedicated fans of the band from school girls to adulthood nearing their 40th birthdays. So keen are the girls – Olivia Hallet, Kitty Harris, Hannah Brown, Mari McGinlay and Mary Moore – to see a live concert, and hopefully meet the boys, that they spend all their cash to get to Manchester and miss the bus home. Like many a romantic group of 15-year-olds, they swore they would be friends for life and exchanged tokens. And like many teenagers they are devastated when one of them dies almost immediately.
When, 25 years later, Rachel (Jennifer Ellison) wins a trip for four to Greece to see the boys band, she elects to invite the three remaining school friends to join her. Anyone who has ever been to a school reunion could have told her that people change a great deal over a quarter of a century, and this quartet certainly have … or have they? After the initial shock of discovering that none of them has achieved their early ambitions, the friendships re-emerge, as well as the still-deep mourning for their lost friend and above all their love of the boys music.
Reverting to school-girlish excitement, they find themselves temporarily in jail and miss the concert, but find something far more important – friendship. Like the five younger girls, Jennifer Ellison, Rachel Marwood, Holly Austin and Jamie-Rose Monk, time after time become intricate partners with the boys in presenting the best of Take That.
But with a script supplied by Tim Firth, best known as the man who brought the Calendar Girls to the stage, all nine girls plus Alan Stocks and Christopher D Hunt, who between them play all the other male roles, have to create real characters. There are some similarities in the girls and their interaction to hose to be found in Calendar Girls.
The way in which the audience leapt at the opportunity to dance in the aisles as the encores were played and sung left the firm impression that, as far as they were concerned, it was the music far more than the story that was important.
You can catch up with the drama and music between 26th and 30th September at the Mayflower Theatre, Southampton, at Truro’s Hall for Cornwall from 17th to 21st October, and Aylesbury’s Waterside Theatre from 7th to 11th November.