Theatre Royal Haymarket & UK Tour
Reviewed – 5th December 2018
“tries to pack in a some messages along the way, some of these work and add a touch of sentiment to the show, but others feel a little unnecessary”
OK, from the start let’s make it clear – this is not, definitely not, a Take That musical. Set in Manchester, featuring five lads in a hugely successful boyband and blasting out the back catalogue of aforementioned supergroup, we’re clear from the onset … this is not, repeat not, a Take That Musical.
As we walk into the auditorium, we’re transported back to 1993 with a giant screen on stage rolling through the pages of Ceefax – a little lost on some of the younger audience members, but to us of a certain age, pure nostalgia. As the show starts we’re in what could be any teenaged girl’s bedroom of the time, with walls adorned with Smash Hits posters. We meet young Rachel (Faye Christall) who brings us up to speed about how she, and her mates Heather (Clayton), Debbie (Rachelle Diedricks), Claire (Sarah Kate Howarth) and Zoe (Lauren Jacobs) are in love with a certain boyband. Skip forward twenty five years and Rachel (Rachel Lumberg) wins a competition to see her beloved pop heroes in Prague. Having drifted apart from the others, she tracks them down and invites Heather (Emily Joyce), Zoe (Jayne McKenna) and Claire (Alison Fitzjohn) to see their childhood idols.
Throughout the plot opportunities are created to shoehorn in some of Take That’s biggest hits, with scenes that cleverly switch from us following the girls/women to us being in the audience of a concert. Most people will know that the lads in the band (A. J. Bentley, Yazdan Qafouri, Nick Carsberg, Curtis T Johns and Sario Soloman) were picked in the BBC contest ‘Let it Shine’. In the year and a half since, they have become a close knit five piece and the show (touring since September last year) has become the fastest selling musical theatre tour of all time.
However, Take That are masters of their game, from lad band to dad band, they have always been talented showmen who excel at everything they do so it’s hard not to compare the boys in The Band with Howard, Jason, Robbie, Gary and Mark; therein lies a problem – however hard they work, they are never going to compete either vocally or performance wise. Don’t get me wrong, AJ, Nick, Curtis, Sario and Yazdan are talented young performers, but there were a few duff notes and the choreography at times wasn’t quite as polished in places as it should have been for a West End stage.
The set (Jon Bausor) was fun with a few nice surprises. However, it did look a little like it was created just to be easily toured with. There were some clever use of video projection (Luke Halls) to flesh out scenes but this was inconsistent as for every outstanding part there was one which was rather unexciting.
The Band tries to pack in a some messages along the way, some of these work and add a touch of sentiment to the show, but others feel a little unnecessary. There are some parts which may raise a few eyebrows in this day and age – dodgy Polish accents and fat jokes to name a couple. This isn’t outstanding musical theatre and doesn’t deliver anything new. However, if you take it at face value, it is a fantastic, fun experience and certainly one you’ll Never Forget.
Reviewed by thespyinthestalls
Photography by Matt Crockett
Theatre Royal Haymarket until 12th January then continues UK tour
Previously reviewed at this venue:
Bat Out of Hell
Reviewed Media Night – 21st June 2017
“the strong musical performances saved this damned production”
I will confess, I am new to the works of Jim Steinman and haven’t watched many West End musicals, mainly because when I was younger I felt musicals were lazy in storytelling. Since then I have been blown away by some fantastic musicals, but Bat Out of Hell brought back all those previous prejudices I held. This was a thoroughly disappointing production in a storytelling perspective. The story – very cliché; another young white boy (Strat) falls in love with another white girl (Raven) and both feel as though they can’t live without the other.
Set in an apocalyptic world in the year 2100 where diversity no longer exists (i.e if you were anything but white or mixed race sorry to say you didn’t make it in this apocalypse). The rich live in high towers and the anarchist youth have the Peter Pan syndrome as they are mysteriously genetically frozen to be 18 forever – because being 18 forever means you will never mature. Bat Out of Hell at times felt like Romeo and Juliet particularly in the scenes when Strat gazes up at Raven hidden upon her tower or Twilight when their love is in jeopardy for she will grow old and he will be young forever.
The dialogue was jarring, which of course didn’t give the actors much to work with, leaving the casts’ acting much to be desired, particularly the scenes with Strat and his crew, – leaving me often cringed at this caricatural acting. Many sins were committed on that stage (and I’m not even talking about the awkward projected sexy scene with Strat and Raven).
The set design aspect of this production really did it for me. Jon Bausor’s design transported the audience into the world of this production. I found myself discovering new aspects of the staging throughout the piece. One thing I also really liked was the concept of the projection of scenes as they were happening on stage. Although, this did lack structure and at times it really felt out of place and in those moments I struggled to understand the reason as to why the director had decided to have certain scenes project and others not. It did create some distancing from the acting, but I am always one for having a bit of Brechtian alienation (if there is a point to it).
Whilst the book and acting left much to be desired; the strong musical performances saved this damned production. Andrew Polec as the lead Strat delivered one of the best performances, filled with energy and passion. Vocally Polec really brought the house down and engaged us in his world.
Christina Bennington, on the other hand, as the spoilt and irritating Raven may have somewhat delivered musically but her overall performance was unforgiveable. Awkward to watch, lacked stage presence and honestly, as a storyline point I could not see why Strat was falling in love with this girl. Perhaps, it was solely her ‘purity’ he was wanting after all.
For me, I would have much rather have Danielle Steers (who played Zahara) in the role of Raven. Danielle’s characterisation of Zaraha, her presence and enchanting performance of Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad and Dead Ringer for Love left me wanting to see more of this actress. Also, not only would Danielle have brought more talent and a fantastic performance for Raven, she too would have brought a different dimension to this character and storyline; an interracial couple, a relationship we often don’t see depicted on stage.
Rob Fowler and Sharon Sexton as Falco and Sloane were rightly a dynamic duo. Even as disillusioned lovers, they still had a chemistry that was envying to watch. Particularly in their smash performance of Paradise by the Dashboard Light, their vocal range and performance were just incredible.
Sharon Sexton delivered a hilarious show stealing performance and was in my eyes one of the strongest actresses in this piece.
Whilst maybe cliché the audience on the opening night revelled in this production as they loudly cheered and gave standing ovations to the actors, which I don’t blame them for; the phenomenal house band and performances are what made this show entertaining. I just wish somebody else had written the book because most elements were there.
I guess Heaven Can Wait because I don’t see this production ascending to the top.
Reviewed by Daniel Correia
Production Photography by Specular
Bat out of Hell
is at the London Coliseum until 22nd August