The Band, the Take That hit musical, is coming to the Ipswich Regent and puts the fans centre stage
- Credit: Archant
Our arts editor quizzes writer of the hit musical, Tim Firth.
Like The Beatles before them, Take That are a band who not only inspire devoted loyalty from their legions of fans, they are well loved by the music world in general for their ability to conjure up a catchy song seemingly at will.
Unlike, their predecessors, the Fab Four, they have managed to have a second bite at the cherry when they reformed in 2005 and they have grown older and matured with their audience. Gary Barlow and Robbie Williams are now regarded as two of pop’s elder statesmen, great songwriters in the same vein as Paul McCartney and John Lennon.
In addition to their albums and regular tours – they are appearing at Carrow Road in Norwich on May 30 as part of their Odyssey tour marking the band’s 30th anniversary – Take That have also given their blessing (and their music) to a stunning new musical The Band, written by Our House, Calendar Girls and Kinky Boots writer Tim Firth.
The Band is not your average tribute band/on stage biography, although Take That’s songs weave themselves in and out of the action with wonderful cleverness, in fact it could be argued that it isn’t about Take That at all but rather a way that the band and their music has formed the soundtrack to the lives of a group of women in Sheffield – and by extension all our lives.
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The show features such classic songs as Never Forget, Back for Good, A Million Love Songs, Greatest Day, The Flood, Relight My Fire, Shine and, of course, Rule the World.
Tim also makes great use of the fact that the band had a break and came back together and this is mirrored in the friendship of their fans. Tim said that it was always the fans, the ordinary people, who fascinated him and there was never a time when he was tempted to do a straight-forward biography. Also, the fact that the story is about the fans and the power of Take That’s music will also speak directly to the people in the audience.
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Take That are portrayed only fleetingly in the show by young actors cast from the TV reality show Let It Shine. They also portray all the male roles and background actors in the play who frequently switch into being ‘Take That’.
The Band has been very well reviewed since it opened in Manchester in 2017 and was highly praised during its London run last year, you must be very pleased, particularly coming on the back of Calendar Girls musical which you co-wrote with Gary Barlow.
TF: “The greatest joy I have received is the way that the show defeats people’s expectations. Because of the catalogue of music that it involves and because of the television show, understandably, everybody thought they knew what it was going to be like – it was going to be a story about five lads making it big in a band – but within the first seconds of the show, you quickly realise that it’s not that, that the focus of the show is not on the band at all but on the girls and by extension those in the audience. It’s about them as fans and how the music forms the backdrop to their lives.
For anyone who knows your other work, the fact that The Band is about ordinary people shouldn’t come as a surprise as your plays like Our House, Calendar Girls, Kinky Boots and Neville’s Island are all about ordinary people dealing with friendships and relationships.
TF: “You would think... but if you look at the poster it’s two thirds Take That and that is what makes an impression on people and that’s an important selling point and the music is a major reason why people go to the show but you hope they emerge from the performance having been engaged by the story and by the characters and having heard a catalogue of great songs in an entirely new light. Also we have found that the word of mouth on this is very good and people who haven’t gone this time will go later because their friends have had a really good time.
How would you sum up the show?
TF: “It’s a musical about the power of song and the power of music in people’s lives. This is music that has helped define two decades or more. Their power and their value is more than whether they are still played on the radio or whether you are a fan of Take That or not. It’s about music, good music. You could tell exactly the same story and replace Take That with another long-lived artist. For any artist that has a long career and an extensive catalogue you could tell exactly the same story. It’s about how people bond and form long-lasting friendships through music.
This is a play with a dramatic 25 year time jump after the interval. Was this always part of the narrative structure of the show?
TF: “It is a dramatic turning point in the show where get to see how youthful aspirations are translated into concrete reality but it wasn’t how I originally saw the show. It evolved into that because the interval provided a convenient break in the story. I told the boys in the very early stages that I couldn’t find a story in their lyrics because that’s not what the lyrics were designed to do and not what the band were about. And the fact that the songs changed as they grew into men also provided a tonal obstacle if I used the songs as the basis of a narrative. So when the idea for the TV series came along I thought what if the guys in the band are also all the blokes in the story. That was the first big idea, they become a kind of Greek chorus. These guys hardly leave the stage, they play a multitude of parts, move the furniture, sing, dance, act and they are involved in all aspects of these girls lives just as the Take That songs are. It was then that I had the start of a story and because the story starts in 1993 we start with the band’s appearance on Top of the Pops and then the fact that the band had a break for 25 years was a fantastic storytelling device not only in their own story but in the story of these four women, their fans.
“It’s a great show with great music but more than that it’s a wonderful show about the value of friendship and how relationships change as you grow up together.”
Take That’s Odyssey tour arrives at Carrow Road in Norwich on May 30 while the musical The Band, by Tim Firth, featuring Take That’s greatest hits is at the Ipswich Regent from February 12-16. Book your tickets here.