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Never Forget

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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It may not have as much class, or indeed glass, as the design of Marguerite, but the latest jukebox show Never Forget has infinitely more energy and pizzazz and much better songs.

I’m not a big Take That fan particularly as I’ve recently grown out of my prepubescent schoolgirl period, and as far as I’m concerned their best numbers – “Could It Be Magic” and “How Deep Is Your Love” – were so-so cover versions of Barry Manilow and the Bee Gees anyway.

This irresistible show does, however, make a good case for the talents of the writer/lyricist Gary Barlow by creating a decent dramatic structure – in a script by Danny Brocklehurst, Guy Jones and director Ed Curtis - that may not have the wit or ingenuity of Mamma Mia! but does use the concert format, and some stunning stage effects, to tell a good story.

The premise is the creation of a Take That tribute band – a sort of “Fake That” - by a bullish Mancunian manager, Ron Freeman (Teddy Kempner), who then tempts the Gary Barlow figure, Ash Sherwood (Dean Chisnall), away from the group into a solo career.

This echo of the departure of Robbie Williams in 1995 when the real-life group had been going five years is cunningly worked towards a happy ending, with a reunion of the band and of Ash with his long-suffering girlfriend Chloe (Sophia Ragavelas), after he has succumbed to a hellfire clubland scene and a sexpot music agent (Joanne Farrell).

All the boys have a drive to succeed: Ash, aided by his best mate Jake (Craige Els is indecently tall but suitably clownish in the Robbie role), wants to clear the debts in the family pub; Tim Driesen’s Adrian Banks is a bespectacled loner with an inner demon and a hidden six-pack; while Eaton James’ Dirty Harry and Stephane Anelli’s campy Hispanic Jose both need to escape, the first from the male stripping circuit, the second from his dominating mother.

Curtis’ production arrives at the Savoy with a brash confidence and unassailable technical perfection born of a long nationwide tour. Karen Bruce’s choreography pulsates with dance floor discipline, and Bob Bailey’s design and James Whiteside’s lighting create a superb concert atmosphere with a stage-wide wall of fire and an incredible first act finale curtain of rain – as in the “Never Forget” video – with the show’s title picked out in giant letters. How did they do that?

- Michael Coveney

NOTE: The following TWO-STAR review dates from 24 August 2007 when the production was on tour.

Just when you thought it was safe to see a musical, along comes another one based on well-known pop tunes. I have nothing against jukebox shows; they can be fun and the audience can go on a journey via the songs of Abba or Queen. The bonus being, that some shows feature the music of bands which are no more, giving fans their fix of nostalgia.

Never Forget is based on the music of current comeback kings Take That, well the Nineties back catalogue of Take That, as the band have distanced themselves from this musical cash-in.

Gary Barlow and the lads stormed back into the charts recently with the hit "Patience" - which is exactly what you need when watching this poorly executed piece. Instead of being based on the lives and loves of the band themselves, the narrative (as slim as it is) revolves around a Take That tribute band.

You may feel ripped off but the 'borrowing' doesn't end there. Each lazy scene looks recycled also, with the audition elements resembling the hit film The Full Monty - only this time, you won’t be laughing.

Due to Barlow's extensive amount of love songs, a romance is clumsily inserted as Gazza look-alike, Ash (earnest but talented Dean Chisnall) rises to the top, putting pressure on his relationship with Chloe (a vocally underwhelming Nancy Sullivan). Many will claim that harmless shows like this don’t need a narrative as they are simply rollicking, good fun. Unfortunately, this show is neither rollicking nor fun.

It’s hard to believe that such a painfully thin concept has taken three writers to bring it to the stage. Danny Brocklehurst, the man behind excellent TV serials Clocking Off, Shameless and Sorted, is one of them - but none of his usual grit, humour or flair is evident here.

After a very busy beginning with too many ideas flying around, the show does settle down, allowing for three minutes of magic during the song "Babe" as Chisnall and his band of merry men show their brilliance, all harmonising beautifully. As the stale love story progresses and the unfunny jokes continue, you long for the songs on their own, minus the window dressing. ("Once You Tasted Love" becomes a dirty backstreet number with basques and riding crops and is unintentionally hilarious.)

This is one 'joke' box musical too far. I couldn’t stop thinking: Mamma Mia, here we go again.

- Glenn Meads (reviewed at the Manchester Opera House)


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