By Esther McCarthy
The Band, Bord Gais Energy Theatre, Dublin
Take That are never name-checked in The Band, a spirited musical that features much of the British popstars’ best-known back catalogue.
It’s not about them. The Band’s great victory is that it’s about the joy, emotional intensity and hormonal-pop soundtrack of youth, and the deep friendships that can foster at this point in our lives.
Set around five female friends in 1992 - a bond sealed by their collective love of and obsession with a certain boy band - the show captures all the fun and mischief of being a 16-year-old girl.
Tim Firth’s (Calendar Girls) concise, persistently funny writing successfully rounds them into very different characters, setting up the potential for surprises when we meet them later in life. At the core of the group stands the deep friendship between Rachel and Debbie, whose belief and sunny attitude has helped instil in her friend a sense of confidence and self-determination.
But life and circumstances push the group apart, and by the time Rachel wins a competition for tickets to see the band at their reunion tour 25 years later, they have all lost contact. Rachel decides to pick up the phone - Take That isn’t the only group that’s getting back together.
Timed to a pitch-perfect pop beat, The Band is a joyous sugar rush of a night out, and the audience, made up largely of mothers explaining the Ceefax and Smash Hits references to their daughters, is even encouraged to get up and dance during a clever, extended encore sequence.
But there’s a real poignancy amidst the broad gags, as the women reveal the hopes and ambitions of their 16-year-old selves, largely unachieved in adulthood. The band themselves enhance key scenes and provide musical back-up, aided and abetted by a strong and impressive production design.
Two live sequences, where the theatre audience becomes the concert audience, are a highlight, while Andy Williams as supporting characters Every Dave steals every scene he’s in. Take That are on board as co-producers.
The Band is at Bord Gais Energy Theatre, Dublin, until November 10. Some tickets remain for Saturday matinee. It then moves to Grand Belfast Opera house from Tuesday, November 13 to Saturday, November 24.