Theatre Review: The Band, Empire Theatre, Liverpool

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Image Source: ATG
                          Image Source: ATG

Written By: Mark Armstrong

Format: Musical
Genre: Comedy Drama
Date: January 23 2018
Location: Empire Theatre, Liverpool

Judging by the promotion and the marketing, The Band is a show all about a certain band which originally formed in Manchester. When you actually see the show and understand the story, though, it is not necessarily about that group of five at all (nor is The Band about a former faction in TNA Wrestling; bonus points if you get that reference), but rather a different group of five; a group of five friends, whose lives are intertwined due to the impact of their childhood heroes.

Indeed, we begin in 1992, where five teenage schoolgirls, who fantasise about The Band every day (and they are always referred to as the lads or The Band as opposed to the group’s official title), are super-excited when one of them (Debbie, played by Rachelle Diedericks) wins tickets to see them live in concert. Of course, all of the friends go along, and they love the show. An attempt to try and meet the boys afterwards is futile, though, but at least they share a bonding experience before heading home in separate directions.

But then tragedy strikes: though we aren’t shown or necessarily told the details, we learn that an accident led to Debbie suddenly and shockingly passing away that night. A falling out at her funeral between her other friends (Rachel, played by Faye Christall; Heather, played by Katy Clayton; Claire, played by Sarah Kate Howarth; and Zoe, played by Lauren Jacobs) sees the girls drift apart, seemingly for life.

Cut to 2017, where Rachel, now grown up (obviously) and played from this point on by Rachel Lumberg, happens to win a radio competition to see the reformed Band in Prague. Her partner Jeff (Martin Miller) assumes this will be a trip for the couple to share with some friends from work, and he even dismisses the idea of seeing the show altogether. But Rachel sees this as an opportunity to reform a band of her own, and she gets in touch with Heather (now Emily Joyce), Claire (now Alison Fitzjohn) and Zoe (now Jayne McKenna) about meeting up and sharing another experience linked to their former idols.

That they do, and when they meet up at Manchester Airport, they quickly realise that their lives have gone in totally different directions, in some cases the polar opposite of what the girls had predicted all those years ago. But the bond between each other remains as strong as ever, and their love for the boys (well, the men by this point) is as strong as could be. But even their trip to Prague is not without its problems, and ultimately it becomes an issue as to whether or not they will even get to the show. More importantly, though, it becomes clear that they are searching for something else; something linked back to that fateful night in 1992.

The story is fairly easy to follow, and all of the hits that you would expect are covered, from I Want You Back to Let It Shine to Never Forget. Indeed, from the standpoint of delivering a great soundtrack, The Band delivers as good a set as any theatre show will. The singing performances are good overall (the acting will leave a stronger impression, though, especially in the closing scenes), and the crowd were singing along, dancing and swaying to every hit. The boys themselves (played by AJ Bentley, Nick Carsberg, Curtis T Johns, Yazdan Qafouri and Sario Solomon) do a worthy job of bringing the memories of the original group to life (their reward for triumphing in the BBC show Let It Shine).

The biggest positive I took away from the show concerned the props and the settings. We’re effectively taken into every environment possible, from Rachel’s bedroom adorned with posters of the boys, to Manchester Airport (which featured a huge aeroplane backdrop) to a fountain statue from Prague city centre actually consisting of the boys themselves! The backing music is also very good, and the story itself is easy to follow. Indeed, if you are a female who grew up listening to the original band in the 1990s, and were delighted to see them reform just over a decade ago, then you’ll get a massive kick out of this show; it’s as relatable as any show could possibly be.

I must mention that this show is clearly aimed at a specific sector of the theatre audience, so much so that those who do not fit into that demographic may find issues with aspects of the show. One can easily sit back and simply enjoy the excellent range of number-one hits if all else fails, but just be mindful of the fact that you may occasionally be looking around and thinking “What’s the big deal?” in regards to a plot development, or wondering “Was it really that funny?” in regards to a joke. I also wasn’t sure why the show was named The Band since the true story is about the friendship of the girls, as opposed to the boys themselves. And for a production that welcomes a younger crowd, there are a few risqué one-liners and dodgy references which may lead to some awkward questions after the show for the parents in attendance.

Nevertheless, there was still a lot to like about The Band, and it measures up as a faithful and relatable story for a generation of music fans. Just keep in mind that the rating below is a balance between the sector of the audience who will absolutely love this show and will want to see it again and again, and those who may not feel the same way. If you’re a part of the target demographic, though, then The Band is perfect.

Overall Rating: 7.5/10 – Good