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.
His latest script, the one which will transfer to the West End once it has finished its national tour (I’ve been right about his scripts transferring in the past and I’ll be right again, I’m sure), is for the new musical The Band.
Watching it at an early preview 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. More than 1,000 weeping theatregoers holding their arms in the air on a predictably wet Saturday afternoon in Manchester is nothing to be sniffed at.
Firth is one of the components of the winning team that have created 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 Take That bandmates.
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 heavy – I mean 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 boy band they love is their life.
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 dreams lost and unfulfilled.
Pugh, who is 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.” He’s right. It’s a proper, solid, incredibly emotional story and the reason is Tim Firth. He has provided a distilled story that rockets along at a staggering pace, hitting every emotional pressure point along the way. It’s going to be a megahit.
Sheffield Lyceum, to October 14. Bradford Alhambra, October 17- 28. Leeds Grand Theatre, March 20 -31, 2018.