Review: Greatest Days
Written by Jamie Griffiths on May 18, 2023
Review: Greatest Days
18/05/2023 – Palace Theatre, Manchester, by Jamie Griffiths
It’s always nice to revisit an old friend and the same is true for musicals – When Take That launched The Band back at Manchester Pride (Matinee was there!) in 2019, it burned brightly and touched the hearts of many audience members, but it slipped away much too soon. When Greatest Days was announced (both on stage and screen) I for one looked forward to revisiting those sandstone hills above the chemical plant with five remarkable characters. In truth it’s because the story resonates deeply with me, being the same age as the girls were in the 90’s and now, and having grown up in the same village as writer Tim Firth, which does indeed have a sandstone hill that overlooks oil refineries and chemical plants (it’s more picturesque than that though!).
Like many musical fans, I’m rather cynical and shudder at thought of Jukebox Musicals, and whilst this show has back to back hits from Take That (all killer, no filler) it’s actually a richly textured drama that heightens the subject matter. The casting this time around is inspired, especially with fellow northerner Kym Marsh who plays Rachel alongside her daughter Emelie Cunliffe, playing the same role twenty years apart. They both have a talent for touching the heart in the tearful scenes, and I’ve never noticed before how similar their rich vocal talents are.
We know Tim Firth has a talent for writing heartfelt dramas (Calendar Girls) and the way he uses The Boyband in this tale is nothing short of inspired. They provide the soundtrack to the character’s lives in precisely the same way that Take That did for 90% of the audience. It’s the reason that the whoops and gasps of recognition from the audience in the opening bars of each song really add to the experience, making watching the show an immersive experience.
This is a true ensemble piece, and the Boyband’s vocals improve as the show progresses with some really lush harmonies to enjoy. The way they are responsible for many of the scene changes is innovative. This new production makes much use of a simplified, streamlined staging that allows much more focus on the incredibly talented cast, which makes the gearchanges between laughter and tears even more pronounced (take a bow Jamie-Rose Monk).
Despite having seen the previous incarnation of the show and knowing that very little in the lives of our protagonists goes to plan, the plot rewards this re-watching, and many of the performances cut deeper. There’s a fabulous line in the production about how – when you’re hurting – love songs can sting you like nettles, and you frequently feel that pain in this show as the characters suffer tremendous losses. But along with the emotional lows there are incredible highs, made so because each time they arrive the audience is euphoric, ready to clap and sing in a joyous chorus. This is the shared soundtrack to their lives and by the encore they are ready to raise the roof.
Rest assured that Greatest Days has re-lit our fire – and it’s a journey I’ve been happy to take again.