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Reviewed: Greatest Days at Curve

Did the official Take That musical relight our fire?

The full cast of Greatest Days. Photo by Alastair Muir.
The full cast of Greatest Days. Photo by Alastair Muir.

Juke box musicals are a mixed bag. Few have had the longevity and acclaim of a Mamma Mia or Moulin Rouge; many have spent six months in the West End and then been banished to the annals of theatre.

The challenge is invariably the same: how do you make a story that ties together unrelated pop songs? In Mamma Mia's case, the story is unique to the show, entirely unrelated to ABBA, using the songs to progress the plot. We Will Rock You uses a more prosaic, Arthurian-legend narrative in order to keep the focus on Queen's music.

Greatest Days has taken an unusual approach. The story here is a quite simplistic, but surprisingly, the songs are still used to support the story, rather than the other way around. As such, neither really shines... Except, ironically, for the song, "Shine".

Written and co-directed by Tim Firth, with music & lyrics by Take That, it reunites the creative team that produced the Calendar Girls musical - a show I'm quite fond of. While Calendar Girls takes an existing story and adds original songs, here they take existing songs and add an original story.

It's about a group of women who were best friends at 16 - united by their shared passion for "The Boys", our proxy-Take That - but have drifted apart in the 25 years since. They are brought back together after Rach (Jennifer Ellison) wins a competition to see "The Boys" on their European reunion tour in Athens.

A juke box musical set in Greece, about middle-aged women re-evaluating the life choices they made when they were young? IT'LL NEVER WORK! Oh wait...

The story explores how life leads you away from the destiny you envisage for yourself at 16, and how that's ok, so long as you're still true to yourself. It's gentle, and genuinely quite sweet at times, but there's not a huge amount of drama or conflict to drive the plot forward. It's more about reconnecting with yourself, than reconnecting with friends.

Fantastic "Macintosh-ography" from "The Boys". Photo by Alastair Muir.
Fantastic "Mac-ography" from "The Boys". Photo by Alastair Muir.

Interestingly, the music is not often sung by the main cast - most of the iconic songs are actually sung by "The Boys", who have no interaction with the main cast - and used to underscore the story, rather than drive it forward.

This also explains the Athenian setting; "The Boys" serve as a Greek chorus, using Take That's music to comment on the emotional action taking place, but always a step removed from it. This is clever, because - realistically - there's no other reason why this musical needs to take place in Greece - the story would be exactly the same if they'd gone to a reunion concert in Manchester.

If you have even a basic knowledge of Take That's history, you'll notice "The Boys" costume changes reflect the real band's style evolution over the years. Meanwhile, the main cast, both the 16 and 41 year old versions, each have an identifiable character palette, so there's no mistaking who's who.

Jennifer Ellison as Rach, with Olivia Hallett as her younger self. Photo by Alastair Muir.
Jennifer Ellison as Rach, with Olivia Hallett as her younger self. Photo by Alastair Muir.

Jennifer Ellison is a charismatic lead in the role of Rach, through she doesn't really enter the action until 40 minutes in, as her younger counterpart (Olivia Hallett) is used to set up the narrative. Both bring plenty of emotion to the role, with Ellison's portrayal including actual tears in the second half.

The other members of the young cast (Hannah Brown, Bayley Hart, Mari McGinlay, and Mary Moore) each have an earnestness and optimism that comes with youth. Carefree and worried about nothing more than how to skip school to see "The Boys" in concert. Until one key event changes everything.

The young cast of Greatest Days. Photo by Alastair Muir.
The young cast of Greatest Days. Photo by Alastair Muir.

The adult cast (Holly Ashton, Rachel Marwood, and Jamie-Rose Monk) do well to build on the characters established by their counterparts. Although their physical appearance doesn't necessarily correlate with their younger selves, the portrayal makes it believable that this is who they grew up to be.

This performance also saw Keith Henderson in the role of Jeff, Rach's long-term partner. Initially the character is quite self-centred and unlikable, but following his second half apology (in one of the shows funnier moments), he becomes rapidly sympathetic, and it becomes easy to understand why he's been frustrated. Henderson did a lovely job with this portrayal.

One actor (Alan Stocks) appears in multiple roles throughout the show. To my amusement, his character is billed in the programme as "Every Dave", though his name is never actually spoken out loud. However, I attended a captioned performance, which revealed that throughout the show he's referred to as "Roadie Dave", "Bus Driver Dave", "Budjet Airlines Dave", "Greek Police Dave", and more. An incredibly silly and delightful quirk of the show, that most audiences probably wouldn't get to see. Stocks does a great job of providing an authority figure throughout the girls' life, and jumps in and out of accents with ease.

"The Boys" (Kalifa Burton, Benjamin Cameron, Archie Durrant, Regan Gascoigne, and Alexanda O'Reilly) offer note perfect recreations of Take That's music, and deliver energy and commitment to the complex choreography.

The set is a collection of adaptable staircases forming everything from school corridors, to Grecian fountains, to beachside rock formations - simple but effective. The lighting adds atmosphere and a flavour of 90s Top of the Pops. The sound, as ever at Curve, is mixed a little unevenly, with the music often louder than the vocalists - especially for soloists.

Overall, this feels more like "a play with music" than a straight up musical. It serves it's function for nostalgic Take That fans - most of the audience were of a demographic and vintage that suggested they would've been boy band fans in the 90s - and it makes for an enjoyable night out... but I doubt it'll be the "Greatest Day" of your life.


Greatest Days - the official Take That musical - is at Curve until Saturday, October 28, 2023, before continuing its tour of the UK.


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