Gary Barlow: A Different Stage review – Take That songmaker never forgets where he's coming from
Gary Barlow does a solo stint in the West End
"Never forget where you're coming from" – the famous lyric is basically the MO for Gary Barlow's solo show, a foray into the past of the Frodsham-born music maker. Now embarking on a stint in the West End after a smattering of UK dates, the Take That frontman is looking back on a densely packed five decades or so, featuring not exactly a million love songs, but definitely a solid few dozen.
As you'd expect from the veteran of many a live gig, Barlow is an assured performer – the 120 minutes of anecdote, song and reflection pass without a hitch or lull in energy. A lot of that is down to the work done by writer Tim Firth (The Girls), a frequent Barlow collaborator. Firth knows how to mould the evening into a comfortably engaging series of peaks and troughs – from the mortifying muck-up of a New York solo performance in the late-90s to the high of Barlow reuniting with his bandmates with their 2006 tour.
Springing across Es Devlin's serviceable set, Barlow pretty much pulls off an impressive balancing act between self-aggrandisement (as you'd expect from the writer of 13 number one singles and the winner of six Ivor Novello Awards) and self-consciousness. It's the latter that feels the most fascinating, from the "Patience" writer's relationship with his father, to the coping mechanisms he created to deal with painful chapters in his life – such as the stillbirth of his young daughter Poppy.
A lot of it has a whiff of over-sanitisation (Barlow gives himself a slap on the wrist as he recalls the "mistake" of involving himself in tax avoidance) but a lot of it isn't – especially a forensic examination of the emotional consequences of an eating disorder. As he washes through the years and from moment to moment, there's an easy-going pathos that will give the Take That die-hards everything they need.
Peppered throughout the night are, of course, the mighty tunes that made Barlow what he is – from "Back for Good", to "Patience" to, of course, "A Million Love Songs". Often stripped back and played solo by Barlow on the piano, their musical power is hard to deny. You'll be humming your favourite Take That track all the way to the nearest tube station.