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Review: The Band at Liverpool Empire ****1/2

Tim Firth and Take That’s musical has recently seen its run extended in to 2019 – a good gauge perhaps of just what a chord this tale of youthful dreams and middle-aged reality has struck with audiences.

Chances are our teenage selves all had a band we worshipped. Some more obsessively than others.

In a spirit of solidarity - and confession - I admit here that mine was Duran Duran, and on a Saturday morning you would have found me in a gaggle of 14-year-olds marauding around Hollywood in Birmingham knocking on doors and inquiring “Hello Mrs Taylor, is John in?”.

As I said, some more obsessively than others.

But while Take That forms the soundtrack to The Band, with a few tweaks here and there it could be Duran Duran. Or the Beatles. Or any group that elicits such wholehearted devotion at a time in life where you are full of the passion of just living.

The beauty of Firth’s clever plot, which never actually names ‘the band’, means you can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with those characters, live their excitement, feel their pain, regret the missed opportunities and rejoice in friendships regained, even if you’re not Take That crazy.

The Band. Photos by Matt Crockett

Firth’s second clever decision was to make the fans the centre of attention, rather than the band – played with confident stage presence, slick choreography, striking visual moments and some lovely vocal harmonies by Five to Five, the quintet who won TV’s Let It Shine.

Past and present bleed in to each other as the group of women meet up 25 years after something terrible tore them apart, re-forging teenage bonds and making peace with the reality of their present lives.

The young actresses who play the teenage friends radiate the uncomplicated joie de vivre of youth, while the older cast members – Rachel Lumberg, Alison Fitzjohn, Emily Joyce and Jayne McKenna – capture perfectly that sense of ‘what the hell happened?’ that all of us of a certain age feel.

Rachel Lumberg and Five to Five in The Band. Photo: Matt Crockett

And of course it all unfolds to an enviable catalogue of great songs, from Pray and It Only Takes a Minute to Relight My Fire, an emotive A Million Love Songs, Back For Good, Rule the World and the joyous, sing-a-long Shine which brings down the first half.

There’s a real sense of life-affirming joy about the show, even in its handling of darker, more reflective moments, which might just persuade the more curmudgeonly to overlook a touch of overt and slightly cheesy emotional manipulation in the closing minutes.

The Band is at the Liverpool Empire until February 3. Tickets HERE

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