Gary Barlow, A Different Stage
Duke of York’s Theatre, London, until Sept 25
There was a time I used to argue with arts editors about what constitutes theatre. One of them told me simply that if it happens in a theatre, it’s
theatre. I was never entirely convinced, but, hey, it’s the dregs of the summer
and theatre columns have to be filled one way or another.
And so I found myself an all but solitary male contemplating the singer, songwriter, record producer, actor, and television personality Gary Barlow, who also happens to be the lead singer of the pop group Take That. There were whoops of joy from the ladies of a certain age when Gary walked out on to the stage, wearing a red tracksuit top, navy blue bottoms and gym shoes.
With his iron-grey quiff and beard, Gary is a very theatrical-looking fellow.
He certainly wouldn’t need a huge amount of makeup to play King Lear. In
the event, he has decided to delight us all with Gary Barlow, A Different Stage.
Of course it is a stupendous act of vanity to decide you want to share your
life story with anyone, let alone an entire auditorium. Gary at least has the
good sense to understand he needs to leaven it all with some self-deprecating jokes. There is a mildly entertaining moment when he disappears behind a screen and says he’s going to emerge from it in his shorts. More whoops from the ladies. The 51-year-old then emerges still in his full-length navy blue bottoms and explains a little dolefully “that boat has sailed.”
The story starts with Gary’s birth. Absolutely nothing is left out after that,
even the sad stuff, like when he was overdoing the Quality Street and Jack
Daniel’s. He does occasionally burst into song, but it would be a mistake to
go to this thinking it’s a concert. The songs only periodically break up his
life story, and often he doesn’t bother to get to the end of them.
I sat there with my notebook and pen grimly determined to try to review this
as if it were normal theatre. What I will say is that Gary has clearly learnt his
lines – a prodigious feat of memory – though the programme says no two
shows are ever quite the same. It’s the custom when writing a theatre review
to note the director of the production. The credits to this one say only that it is “created” by the Calendar Girls writer Tim Firth and Gary himself. This being a pop star, it’s felt necessary, too, to mention that one James Gentles is in charge of Gary’s security, presumably by way of deterrent to any over-enthusiastic fans.
I don’t say Gary isn’t an engaging bloke, and of course it’s a good thing that he can talk about the bad as well as the good times in his life so openly. I just wonder if it’s wise for anyone to talk about their own life for two hours and 20 minutes and assume everyone is going to remain fully awake.