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REVIEW: Greatest Days at Newcastle Theatre Royal

Greatest Days

Newcastle Theatre Royal

Until Saturday 3 June 2023

The jukebox musical featuring the hits of Take That lands in Newcastle this week. Featuring former Hear'Say member Kym Marsh and her daughter Emlie Cunliffe, this is a show that is more than emotional rollercoaster than one expects.

Kym Marsh as Rachel - Photo: Alastair Muir

Jukebox musicals with the music of a single act tend to either do a story about the band or a story that has nothing to do with the band. This musical goes down a refreshing third route as the Tim Firth book explores the fans behind "The Band". In doing so it immediately presents a story that is relatable to the bulk of the audience. The are depictions of the young fans in the 90s and the grown-ups in the current day thus giving everyone watching a chance to reflect upon their own youth. Whilst not everyone in the audience is necessarily a fan of music of Gary Barlow - they will have had a teenage obsession that felt more important at the time than it does now. Tapping into the collective experience lifts the show's narrative. 

The audience are introduced to a gang of four teens, from the north west, who are excited to watch their favourite boy band on Top of the Pops. They hang on to the every lyric. They learn the dance moves.
Kym Marsh as Rachel & Emilie Cunliffe as Young Rachel
- Photo Alastair Muir

Young Rachel (Emile Cunliffe) immerses herself into the music by imagining the band are present in the room. This helps block the nightmare reality of two parents at war with one another. It also gives opportunity for the vocal and dancing talents of The Band to make their first appearance. Kalifa Burton, Jamie Corner, Archie Durrant, Regan Gascoigne and Alexanda O'Reilly are expected to sing and move around the characters as well as rearranging the set from time to time. They work really hard to make the show flow.
LtoR Regan Gascoigne, Archie Durrant,
Jamie Corner, Kalifa Burto & Alexanda O'Reilly Photo: Alastair Muir

Rachel's best friend is Debbie, performed on press night by understudy Bayley Hart. You would never guess that this was a performance by an alternate as Debbie became a character that the audience quickly felt a rapport for. Debbie wants to be the bridesmaid when Claire fulfils her dream of marrying The Band. 

Mari McGinlay appears as the diver Claire who trains hard and hopes to appear in the Olympics. Kitty Harris struts around as Young Heather - a lady who is popular with the lads given the copious graffiti to that effect around the groups hanging around spot. Completing the gang is conscientious Young Zoe who is the one who works hard at school and wants to go to university. Hannah Brown gets the delicate balance right of wanting to do well in her studies but still having a bit more about her. Here lies a potential trap as we are presented with five stereotypes, five different teen personalities. Is the love of The Band sufficient to pull very different types into the same friendship group? One suspects not, but it helps the audience identify themselves at that age by covering the bases.

Debbie wins tickets to go to Manchester to see The Band. Of course her friends are going to go along. It isn't even 9am but they consider bunking off school in order to get ready. A complaint of "what am I going to wear?" is quickly dismissed by the suggesting of 50p in a charity shop will sort things out.
Photo: Alastair Muir

The show then swings into a brief concert mode. A chance for some moves and a medley of Take That hits. The Band encourage some audience participation in the form of some clapping. Another positive decision that they got right in this show is the use of a talented live band, under musical director Zach Flis. It feel like more energy goes in to the performance compared to a similar show using a pre-record.

The group wait at the stage door the The Band to appear but eventually realise that the band don't hang around and walk straight off stage to the tour bus. Debbie picks up some wristbands for the group to remember the evening by. The audience also get one of the regular appearances of "Every Dave" - Alan Stocks adds regular humour to the script as a roadie one minute and a bus driver during the next.

Then something happens. No spoilers here. All I will say is that it created a talking point for the interval. 

The story then propels itself to the modern day. 
Rachel wins a radio competition for 4 people to head off to Greece to see the reformed Band. Rather than taking her rock music loving partner and the couple that they do pub quizzes with, Rachel decides to get her schoolmates back together for the trip.
Photo: Alastair Muir

The school friends, performed by Rachel Marwood, Holly Ashton, Jamie-Rose Monk and Kym Marsh, have gone on in their own direction,  following paths that, shall we say, provide some amusement for the audience. As is often the case,  the dreams and anticipation of teenagers often get hampered by real life as adults. 
As they arrive at the,airport I was struck by the decision to colour code each actor. The colour given to their young selves is replicated in the adult form and the colour of their luggage.  I guess it helps with tracking them.

The story works as fans of bands often enjoy the bands second or third incarnation. I know I have seen a number of bands recently that I never had the chance to in the 80s and reacquaint myself with acts I loved in the 90s. It is big business as Blur will testify as their recent City Hall appearance sold out in minutes rather than days. Nostalgia sells. How else does Kiss get away with charging a three figure amount for yet another final tour. I digress. Back to this show.
Photo: Alastair Muir
I should at this point declare I was never a fan of The Band myself. Nothing wrong with the music but it was played to saturation at the time. I was not exactly their target audience.  That didn't stop me enjoying this show. Whilst I was into other bands, I got that fan element.  I too have discovered a band I love I playing and ensured I got there. I also know how close school friends end up on different paths.
Photo: Alastair Muir

This musical works on that human level. Add it great performances from a tight ensemble cast, a great live band plus The Band themselves and it makes for a fun package. Will you like it? I think most people will know the answer to that before they get the tickets. All I'm saying is that I was pleasantly surprised by it.

Review: Stephen Oliver.

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