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Never Forget (Manchester & tour)

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
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Never Forget has one of the most lacklustre openings to a show I have seen in a long while: a rather wimpy proposal and a song which does neither of the two leads any justice. Thankfully, the energy of the piece improves - even if the plot does not!

The narrative, such as it is, has five no-hopers coming together to form a Take That tribute band. Trials and tribulations follow in a predictable fashion. Boy gets engaged to girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl again.

What plot is stretched so thin it's transparent. The fact that it took three writers: Danny Brocklehurst (with TV credits such as Shameless and Clocking Off), Guy Jones and Ed Curtis, who also directed, to bring it to this fairly mediocre level probably means they should have ripped it up and started again.

The only saving grace comes in the guise of the performances. In Mark Willshire (Ash) and Aimie Atkinson (Chloe), there are two very strong performers. Early on in the proceedings, Willshire proves he has a great voice and is a reasonable actor.

Atkinson has to wait longer to let rip vocally, as the songs she has in the first act really do nothing for her. In the second half, though, she’s allowed to shine and packs a truly powerful punch with her "Relight My Fire" stint.

The other four members of the tribute band are also strong. Adam C Booth as Jake has adept comic timing. Tom Bradley (Adrian) has a great voice although appears physically miscast – he’s the tallest actor, playing the shortest member of Take That! Former Brookside star Philip Olivier (Dirty Harry) produces the laughs via his character's ability to constantly put his foot in it. Scott Garnham (Jose) also succeeds despite being lumbered with awful 'comedy' Spanish accent.

Shaun Williamson as Ron the manager and Penelope Woodman as Ash's mum Babs provide solid support but never really have the opportunity to be more than one-dimensional.

Morgan Large's set design creates the necessary concert vibe, yet it's also adaptable enough for other elements. Simple rotating screens at the back move the action to various venues. There’s an excellent effect for the end of the first act, when the words "Never Forget" are spelled out in the rain, drawing applause from the audience.

Karen Bruce's choreography produces mixed results; for the main characters, it's evocative of the Nineties era, though the backing dancers needed more invention, as they simply repeat he same moves and lifts several times throughout the show.

Overall, if you like the music of Take That - and on the night I attended, the standing ovation proved the target audience certainly do - then this is harmless hokum. But if you’re after a musical with a decent plot then think again, as ultimately Never Forget remains forgettable.

- Helen Jones (reviewed at the Manchester Opera House)


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