“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
“if we are condemned to forever relive our past, it may as well be done like this, with a great big song and dance”
As if fearful of the present, a strain of nostalgia seems to have taken hold of pop culture. Cinemas teem with sequels, reboots, and franchise entries; discount CDs beg to be taken back to some half-remembered decade. In this context it feels grimly predictable that Heathers – correctly in this case called a cult classic – should be dredged up once again in musical form. And yet somehow, perhaps due to the utter peculiarity of the original, one wonders whether it might just work.
1989: smart and sweet-natured Veronica Sawyer subsists in the purgatory of high school. Then, in a freakishly convenient turn of events, she finds herself under the wing of the decidedly bad-natured Heathers. The Heathers – surnames Chandler, McNamara, and Duke – are simultaneously the most popular and most loathed girls at Westerburg High; led by “mythic bitch” Heather C., they seem to float above school life, making and breaking reputations at a glance. But there is also Jason Dean, known only by his initials, an outsider operating beyond understood hierarchies. The Heathers may be at the top of the social food chain, but they are a part of it nonetheless. J.D. is purely anarchist, his sardonic smile a promise of disturbance. Veronica is slowly drawn in, and so begins the dark unravelling of the Heathers’ reign of terror.
Within the first few moments, the nerves of those who feared a demolition job are calmed; led by Carrie Hope Fletcher’s Veronica, the cast immediately sets out a strong stall. The ice-cold cruelty of the Heathers (Jodie Steele, Sophie Isaacs, T’Shan Williams) and the cool, calm, and collected J.D. (Jamie Muscato) naturally please the punters, but particularly revelatory are Christopher Chung and Dominic Andersen as bullies Kurt and Ram. Their unforeseen injection of comic relief almost steals the show completely.
The set design is as impressive as it is versatile. Grand and glorious one minute (enhanced by the grand and glorious theatre itself), football fields transform seamlessly into classrooms, bedrooms, and basements.
In spite of a few altered plot points, there’s probably very little that will upset die-hard fans. On the other hand, the music is surprising for its quality. Not that a failure was necessarily expected, but the weight of anticipation may have crushed lesser songs.
If it seems reductive that I compare the show so closely to the film, I would say only that, as a certified nostalgia piece, the play sets itself the challenge of living up to its forebear. And on the whole, I would say that it does so, but not without reservation. There is, of course, the issue of J.D.’s introduction. In the original he is set upon by Kurt and Ram, only to pull a (blank-loaded) gun on them in the middle of lunch. In this version, J.D. instead beats the living daylights out of the pair as Veronica looks on in awe. Given the stark terror of school shootings in modern-day America, it’s easy to see why the change was made, and it needn’t necessarily make much difference, except that it creates plot holes in an otherwise tight script. For example, later on J.D. loses his apparent ability to take on the jocks and receives a savage beating. What’s more, when not on school property (or when in the school basement), no such qualms about his (sometimes lethal) weapon-wielding crop up. It’s a minor point, but it is demonstrative of the wider problem of reboots trying to navigate new eras.
Some of the caustic cool that made the film so much fun has sadly been stripped out. Muscato deftly handles the transition from rebel to terrorist, but his J.D. lapses too often into a plastic Patrick Bateman impression. Ultimately these factors don’t detract much, but may leave you with nagging doubts later that night.
It would be hard to describe the show as cutting edge. If pop culture really is trapped in an endless cycle of regurgitated images, Heathers: The Musical won’t be the antidote. But if we are condemned to forever relive our past, it may as well be done like this, with a great big song and dance.