Review: Greatest Days at The Bristol HippodromePosted on: 13 Sep 2023
"It’s about friendships, flawed characters, memories, loss, and regret."
Billed as ‘the official Take That musical’, you may arrive at The Bristol Hippodrome expecting something of a biography of ‘The Band’ (which is what this show was called when it first toured between 2017 and 2019). That’s not the case, although it does feature 15 of their hits.
This new tour coincides with the release earlier in the year of the film adaptation of the show (it’s on Amazon Prime if you want to watch it, but the stage version is better) and with the 30th anniversary of the release of 'Pray', which, back in 1993, was Take That’s first UK number one single.
Written by Tim Firth (who also wrote Calendar Girls), Greatest Days is the story of childhood friends reuniting after 25 years for the trip of a lifetime to see the band that provided the soundtrack to their youth. It’s an easy-to-follow story, mostly designed to deliver smiles and laughter, but with twists and turns that bring tears to most eyes.
It’s about friendships, flawed characters, memories, loss, and regret. It’s about screaming teenage girls, the things they share with each other and the parts of their lives they keep to themselves, and it’s about the women they become, or not.
The boyband (pictured below) is always there, popping up when you don’t necessarily expect to see them, even appearing as Greek statues at one point, which gets our women into some unexpected trouble. They are nameless, and almost devoid of personality; this isn’t their story, they are merely the all-singing, all-dancing, backdrop and they do it very well. The boyband doesn't age, whereas the cast features younger and older versions of the female characters.
The set, designed by Lucy Osborne, is simple but adaptable. With a few movements and minor additions, and some spectacular lighting when needed, it becomes, at varying times, a bedroom, classroom, concert hall, bus, hilltop, airport, fountain, jail cell, stadium… and I’ve probably missed a few places out.
You can go along and enjoy Greatest Days as a standard jukebox musical, you can get up at the end to sing and dance along with the cast, you can have a great, fun, night out. But there’s a chance you may find yourself thinking about it a little more deeply, perhaps after you leave the theatre. My bus trip home sometimes drags, sometimes I snooze (and occasionally miss my stop and have a longer than ideal walk home), sometimes I read or send some emails…
…tonight, I find myself casting my mind way back to when I was 16 (it’s a long way to cast!) and thinking about the friends I had then; friendships we thought would last forever. I remember the way we talked about Top of the Pops and our favourite bands, the way we’d tape the Top 40, write out song lyrics, and, yes, practice the dance routines in our lunch breaks; there are scenes in the show that feel so familiar.
And I find myself thinking about the women and men we’ve become, or not, because in most groups of friends, mine no exception, there will be people you expect to follow one path, who instead will go in quite different directions, and there will be people we lose. Those losses will change some lives dramatically while for others the memories fade away... until a jukebox musical brings them flooding back.
Greatest Days is a show with layers, and I like that about it.
For further information, and to book online, visit The Bristol Hippodrome website.
Images: Alastair Muir
Vivienne Kennedy says she lives and works in Bristol but sleeps in Weston-super-Mare, which is where she’s actually lived pretty much all her life. During the day, she is Head of Broadmead BID (Business Improvement District), supporting retailers in Bristol Shopping Quarter. Away from work, she’s been reviewing theatre, music and art in Bristol for more than 12 years and is rarely happier than when watching a good show at the Hippodrome or Old Vic.