The Band Milton Keynes Theatre (atgtickets.com)
Much has been made about this being a show using the music of Take That but not about them. About 20 minutes in, I was already starting to ponder why not because the collective and individual stories of Barlow et al since 1990 have to be more interesting than this one. The reviews have been mixed to be fair since the start of the run so I am not completely out of step here when I say that I didn’t find this particularly enjoyable. In fact, I found the female characters, or should I say caricatures, clumsy and some of the gag themes crass and very at odds with the current climate. The show is about the interrupted friendship of five teenage girls in 1993, bound by their obsession with a boy band, who reunite as forty-something women 25 years later. Having won tickets for a stadium show, the teenagers all venture out for the night, but miss the last bus home after hanging around hoping to meet the group afterwards. Tragedy strikes and we jump forward to present day when coincidentally Rachel has won four tickets to the band’s show in Prague. On a whim, she manages to track down her old schoolmates Claire, Heather and Zoe, to go with her. Chaos ensues in Prague with fountain capers, vandalism, and a spell in a police station. It is here that the women face up to their past and present and we learn that none of these women have achieved what their younger selves had dreamed of. OK, so life doesn’t necessarily pan out but for writer Tim Firth, along with producers David Pugh, Dafydd Rogers and Take That (minus Jason Orange), to present all the characters as unfulfilled in relation to their younger selves is disingenuous.  Some of the revelations of the women’s lives now are awkwardly played for laughs and resonate as something out of the unreconstructed seventies. Firth wrote for Calender Girls and the women here are the same types of characters, with the same type of humour and style.
Other scenes and lines are more amusing; Andy Williams as the bus driver, airport steward, and police officer and Martin Miller ineptly attempting to woo Rachel with Take That lyrics are fun and silly. All the actors playing the teenage girls and grown women are great with Faye Christall, Katy Clayton, Rachel Lumberg and Jayne Mckenna standing out in particular.
 
Thank goodness for the music – Shine, Back For Good, Rule The World, Greatest Day and more - performed by a (mostly hidden) fantastic five piece band. The set is very clever using projections and lighting to great effect; a nod to the real stage shows. The place of the young men playing The Band is unclear; not central characters, but mostly props for the female characters. These guys won the BBC’s Let It Shine talent show and I bet they had no idea they were not going to be playing Take That for their prize. It’s unfair to compare their performance to the real thing because they can never be as polished in voice and dance abilities or as charismatic as the original members, but it’s impossible not to. Take That are so sharp but this group are often not in time with each other, the costumes look shabby and the boys seemed tired and lacklustre at times. A mixed bag with credit going to the performers who are short changed by the writer and producers.
The Band plays Milton Keynes Theatre until 9 March. Tickets: Box Office on 0844 871 7652 (booking fees apply). www.atgtickets.com/miltonkeynes