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 not slim characters, it wasn’t. However, for another, we learned essentially nothing about her life except that she used to be slender 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 I 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.