I’ve discovered Tim Firth’s secret.
The man who wrote Calendar Girls the movie, who later adapted that script for the stage and musical versions of the story isn’t a scriptwriter at all. The man’s a surgeon.
There’s no better word to describe the intricacies, the, well, surgical precision of his work.
Watching an early preview of his latest musical The Band at Manchester’s Opera House I was astounded at the skill on display.
With barely a stroke of his pen Firth created a heartbreaking and heartwarming story of love and friendship, of female relationships and of the way that fandom shapes ours lives.
It was genuinely quite extraordinary to behold. There are those who will turn up their noses at the work he creates: some of the national newspapers have decided not to send their reviewers into ‘the provinces’ to pass judgement on The Band. More fool them.
Firth is one of the components of the winning team that have come together to create The Band. The other members of the team, who first worked together to turn Calendar Girls into a musical include uber producers David Pugh and Dafydd Rogers and one Gary Barlow. For The Band Barlow has brought along his bandmates from Take That.
In a bar in Manchester after the ridiculously well received matinee performance, David Pugh admits that despite the obvious quality on show, there is a problem with The Band.
“People think it’s Take That the musical,” he says.
I can see the problem. The musical features the music of Take That. From the anthemic Never Forget to the surprisingly moving Shine and A Million Love Songs, they sit at the heart of the story.
It’s why the auditorium was busy with women of a certain age who would most likely have had posters of Gary, Mark, Howard, Jason and Robbie on the walls of their teenage bedrooms.
However. The songs are a part of the story, a single wheel of this juggernaut. The engine is Tim Firth’s story. It is a story of a group of young women for whom the boyband they love is their life.
From The Beatles to One Direction, fandom, particularly teenage fandom, is a powerful pull that will resonate with anyone who has been a teenager and Firth exploits it for all it’s worth.
It is also a story of a group of women, looking back at their teenage years of fandom, of dreams lost and unfulfilled.
Pugh, who I guarantee is literally one of the hardest working people in showbusiness, is clearly frustrated.
“It features the music of Take That, and it’s great to have the boys on board as co-producers, but this is much more than just that. There was a Take That musical that toured previously, this is very much not that.”
He’s right. It’s a proper, solid, incredibly emotional story and the reason is Tim Firth. The man who learnt his craft at the knee of Alan Ayckbourn when he was writer in residence at Scarborough’s Stephen Joseph Theatre, has provided a distilled story that rockets along at a staggering pace, hitting every emotional pressure point along the way.
I haven’t even mentioned the young band Five to Five, discovered via a BBC talent show, who play the objection of the heroes of the story’s affection.
It’s going to be a megahit.
At the Bradford Alhambra, until October 28,then coming to Leeds Grand Theatre, March 20-31, 2018.