The Band

The Band by Tim Firth – The Lyric, Theatre Royal Plymouth

I have a lot of feelings about The Band. So I’ll start with the positives. The production values are high, all of the staging looks incredible and there’s some pretty powerful pyrotechnics to appreciate. The cast are very capable performers and crowds around me all seemed to be having the time of their lives. Similar to Jersey Boys, it’s a play that allows people to engage with theatre through something they’re already familiar with. The storyline was decent as well, far better than some other jukebox musicals I’ve seen.

That’s the good stuff. And I did have a good time watching The Band, there were just a few elements of it that sat very uneasy with me. For instance, there is a lot of fat jokes. Like, too many. I’m aware that, being fat myself, I tend to be more sensitive to this sort of thing than most people are. That said, I still think that it was lazy and cheap writing. The Band features characters who are working class, older female characters, characters who are fat, characters who are gay. It should have been a representational slam dunk. But they kind of fucked it, as far as I am concerned. They had a real opportunity to offer some positive representation for people who very rarely see themselves reflected onstage. There were some characters for whom this was achieved, for instance the presentation of working class people was positive. I just can’t look past those fat jokes. They happened so often and were usually centred around ‘lol, fat people like to eat’ or just straight up ‘lol, look, they’re not slim’. Basically the kind of comments that school bullies have been peddling for years. Seriously Firth? That was the best you could come up with? Having a less than slim character doesn’t need to be a plot point to address, it doesn’t have to be their only character trait. Which for one of the slightly less slim characters, it wasn’t. However, for another, we learned essentially nothing about her life except that she used to be slim and then comfort ate her way to fatness. So predictable, so dull. Not all fat people are fat cos they’re sad, FYI guys. Many of the more cruel jokes are uttered by that character herself, seemingly to make the laughter ok. I don’t feel like that’s good enough. If I were to suddenly start making loads of sexist jokes that wouldn’t be empowerment, the fact that I’m part of the marginalised group doesn’t make it ok if I am feeding into toxic ideals that other people already hold – it’s hindering the cause and my being female wouldn’t change that. Same here re: fat jokes. The jokes were not made to question the idea that fat bodies are inherently inferior or funny. It wasn’t some form of smart satire to question beliefs. It stuck very much to the status quo. At one point the character talks about how she became fat. It’s played for pathos little else. The jokes continue, except the other characters decide they won’t make them anymore (she can belittle herself, they don’t need to). There’s no character development except her now deciding to go on a diet (she’s slimmer of the week now guys!). The final scene involves one character making a fat joke, and our bigger character excusing this because it means she can then make jokes about the other character being a lesbian. What?! I don’t understand what point that is supposed to be making. Sure, it’s good to be able to laugh at oneself and not take life too seriously, I’m just not sure these are the traits to be making that point with. Particularly when numerous people laughing at these jokes are very much laughing AT and not WITH.

It was super frustrating for me because the rest of the musical was great, far better than I was expecting it to be. It should have been a fun night of nostalgia but I left feeling pretty mopey really. For many, these jokes will have been a tiny aspect of the play that had little impact on the rest of the story. Which is feel is kind of the problem, it normalises it. I feel that the writers could have done so much better. The cast were really talented, this could have been a great show and a really positive thing for a lot of people. I’m not angry lads, I’m disappointed. And I do mean lads there, it’s another all male creative team presenting female experience.

This became a huge kill joy rant, apologies! I’m aware that a lot of people saw this show and had a really lovely night out and I’m pleased for them. There was a lot of talent involved here and a lot about the production that is positive and worthy of admiration. I found it very difficult to appreciate that at the time though, being somewhat blindsided by the aforementioned elements.

Jersey Boys

Jersey Boys by Marshall Brickman, Rick Elice, Bob Gaudio and Bob Crewe – The Lyric, Theatre Royal Plymouth.

I don’t really have much to say about Jersey Boys. I enjoyed the show and had a fun evening, but it’s not a play that requires much thought beyond its surface. It does exactly what you’d expect a big budget jukebox musical to do. And there’s nothing wrong with that, everyone needs a night of escapism every now and again. Jersey Boys brought huge crowds to Theatre Royal, many of whom very rarely (if ever) attend the theatre. It’s getting people to engage with the arts through something they’re already familiar with, and I’m here for it.

It’s definitely worth seeing if you’re after a fun night out. The cast are great, it’s a slick and impressive production, and the songs are all certified bangers. Little ashamed to admit that I thought Beggin’ was a Madcon original – genuinely no idea the Four Seasons did it first. The more you know! I also really enjoyed finding out that Joe Pesci helped create the Four Seasons. Folk sat next to me were shocked to see someone so young in the crowd, so we ended up having a nice chat about why I was there. Turns out they were also Brummies! One of them sang very loudly throughout; he was so into those tunes. I was loving it, it’s rare you see someone at a theatre so unabashedly havin’ it large. My aisle mates weren’t all as on board but the band were playing loud enough for them to still hear the performers – as far as I’m aware no complaints were made.

All in all, a very good time!

Sunset Boulevard

Sunset Boulevard by Don Black/Christopher Hampton/Andrew Lloyd Webber – The Lyric, Theatre Royal Plymouth

I don’t think I like musicals. Or at least, I don’t think I like more traditional musicals like this one. The kitsch and the camp of Rocky Horror, Hairspray and Little Shop of Horrors all appealed to me in the film versions so they seem like something I might like onstage (and did like in the case of Hairspray). I really didn’t engage with this show though. I found myself drifting into day dreams and not paying attention for quite long sections, which of course meant that I wasn’t following/understanding the plot. It just couldn’t seem to hold my attention. I think part of me not enjoying it stems from not being as keen on the style of music used. There was also slight issues with the backing music being louder than the vocals at some points. All the action happens through songs, there’s little to no dialogue so being unable to hear a few sung lines here and there has quite a big impact. The plot of the show sounded right up my street so I thought I’d enjoy this more than I did. I’ll have to get my hands on a copy of the film instead I think!

I’d like to add a disclaimer that me sort of hating this show is not a reflection of the show itself. Quite a few people who saw it commented on what a quality piece it was and had nothing but praise for it. The performances seemed strong (Danny Mac won awards for his portrayal of Joe Gillis) and the vocals were impressive. The set was gorgeous too. I think it’s more a case of it just not being to my tastes. It is a weird experience knowing I really didn’t enjoy something but being essentially unable to explain why.

I’ll continue seeing musicals that come to TRP though, I think it’s important that I keep an open mind and it’s good to see as much as I possibly can.