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Review: Gary Barlow - A Different Stage (Duke Of York's Theatre)

Review by Daz Gale


One of the biggest names in British music is touring a very different show at the moment. Though he may be more used to playing arenas and stadiums with Take That, Gary Barlow himself is no stranger to the West End having in the past being involved with musicals The Girls and The Band (The Take That musical currently being adapted into a movie). Nearly four years after that show finished its limited run, I guess now it’s time for Gary’s one-man show A Different Stage to see him back in the West End… though disappointingly not for good.



Let’s address the giant elephant in the room (Take That fans will immediately think back to The Circus tour). I am a huge Take That fan and have been all my life. As a kid, I ran to my local shop (ask your parents) to buy their latest album the day it came out on cassette (ask your grandparents). When they reunited, I became an even bigger fan, seeing them on every tour. In fact, my love for their music pre-dates my love for theatre, so it was an interesting concept for me to see these two beautiful worlds unite. But the question is what would my critical theatre brain make of this show?


This isn’t your everyday Gary Barlow concert. A Different Stage is exactly as it describes itself – a very different show for Gary which recounts the highs and lows of his life and career thus far. No bells and whistles, none of the grand set pieces you have come to expect from a Take That shows (which means no giant elephant). Instead, what you are left with is a stripped back, completely intimate show which allows Gary to show his personality and vulnerability with no holds barred.



Directed by Tom Firth, Gary effortlessly commands the stage with little more than his voice and the odd musical instrument to tell the story, displaying his natural charm as he talks to the audience like he is in a room full of old friends (which in some cases, he is). We all know what an accomplished songwriter Gary is, but his writing extends past just the music as this show is a well crafted and speedy look into the life Gary has had in and out of the spotlight for more than 30 years now.


A relatively bare set, littered only with boxes to resemble a packed up stage does exactly what it needs to. Designed by Es Devlin, minimal props are used to great effect with the presence of his various musical instruments including a glorious organ providing the centrepieces. A Different Stage also utiilses a beautiful use of lighting from Bruno Poet – one highlight of which are a series of spotlights to resemble Garys absent band members.



Without giving much of the content away, Gary touches upon how he was discovered, his rise to fame in Take That, the darker years after his solo career failed to take off and the second wind he got after Take That’s surprise comeback. Stories of his career are interspersed with tales from his personal life, where Gary unflinchingly recounts his experience with immeasurable personal loss including the heart-breaking stillbirth of his daughter Poppy, and a perhaps surprising inclusion of his dealings with an eating disorder. Garys flow telling these stories is utterly gripping, with the more emotional of these moments cutting through and leaving not a dry eye in the house. My only criticism of this perhaps is that each story is barely touched upon before we have moved on to the next thing. This is to be expected in a 2 hour show that has to cover a lifetime, but such is the calibre of the storytelling, it really does leave you wanting more.


Of course there is music present, but if you’re expecting to be treated to a career-spanning greatest hits, the contents are far more surprising. Without giving away all of the songs he does, ‘Rule The World’ takes on a whole new meaning while poignant solo single ‘Let Me Go’ is an undoubted highlight. There are also some unexpected covers and teases of Take That classics, all of which are performed in fine voice from Gary.



I may have been a bit hesitant at the beginning of this show, but Gary well and truly won me over on a truly captivating and charismatic show that appealed to both the Take That fan and the theatre lover inside of me. Full of surprises, A Different Stage is a brutally honest and heartfelt piece of theatre that was a true masterclass in storytelling. While he will soon be back to playing to tens of thousands of fans in some of the biggest venues in the country, getting the chance to experience Gary Barlow recounting his life in such raw detail in such an intimate setting is an evening I will never forget.


★★★★


A Different Stage is playing at the Duke of York’s Theatre until September 25th.


It then tours the UK until November. Dates and tickets at http://adifferentstage.show/


Photos by Claire Kramer MacKinnon


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