The Band, a musical by Tim Firth which features the music of (but is not the story of) Take That, arrives at The Bristol Hippodrome on 17 April.

Five of the cast, known as Five To Five, are the winners of the BBC’s Let It Shine talent competition.

Another of the show’s stars is Alison Fitzjohn, who hails from Cardiff but is based in Bristol and has previously worked front of house at the Bristol Hippodrome.

Vivienne Kennedy caught up with Alison to find out a bit more about the show and her top tips for her fellow cast members, who will be visiting Bristol for the first time.

The Band at Bristol Hippodrome

So, I know The Band isn’t the story of Take That but can you reveal what it is about?

At a very base level, it’s about a group of friends who are 16 years old and their love for a band. It’s about excitement and love and friendship, and their relationship with this band and each other.

Something happens, which I’m not going to reveal, but the friendship breaks up and they go their separate ways. They don’t speak again until 25 years later when one of them wins a competition to go to Prague to watch the band. She wins four tickets and decides it’s time to reconnect with her friends. 

They go on this journey to Prague and it’s all about them re-finding their friendship and coming to terms with life and the various things that have happened in the time they’ve been apart.

It’s a story that many audience members will watch and find themselves thinking "Goodness, that’s me. I’m that character right there!"

Dare I say that it probably sounds more interesting than perhaps the story of Take That might be?

Well, that’s for audiences and yourself to decide. Tim Firth, who is an amazing writer, and Take That themselves, wanted it to be about the fans and for the fans.

I think it’s for any fan though, not necessarily just for fans of Take That – anyone who loves music and has a relationship with music.

You play Claire – what’s she like?

She is, as all the characters are, very complex. She’s great fun. She’s had a massive change between the age of 16 and 25 years later, and it’s a physical difference. I don’t want to give too much away…

Do you like her?

I love her! Creating a character like her for the stage has been great. Her story is very brave and it’s very current. I’m getting women writing letters, saying how the character has affected them in a real positive way, "By seeing a character like you on stage, it’s helped me accept myself and I’m now able move on".

What happened to them when they were 16… in many ways Claire’s the one who was most affected by it. 

You see her laughing and joking, a real full of life character, but underneath all that there’s a lot going on, which she reveals throughout the second half of the show.

All the characters are very real, and I love them for it; it’s fantastic.

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The Band at Bristol Hippodrome

How important is it to you that this is a female-led story?

It’s so important; to all of us.

There’s equal representation throughout the company – we have half and half. It’s something that David and Dafydd (Pugh and Rodgers, the show’s producers) are very hot on; they were pioneers for that.

The fact that it’s female-led is fantastic and I also love that it’s about women in their 40s. It’s great to see all these women on stage.

The Band’s UK tour began last year and continues until 2019. It has already broken records as the fastest-selling tour of all time. Is it that all down to the TV show casting process, or is it something else that’s caught the imagination of ticket buyers?

I think the TV show is a contributor, but the fan base of Take That is huge and I think it’s also to do with Tim Firth, he’s got a reputation as being a fantastic writer, and David and Dafydd, who have got the reputation of being brilliant producers… I think it’s a combination of things really.

Something that’s been great is that 62% of people who come to see our show have never been to the theatre before, and what’s even more brilliant is that they’re coming back to see us again and booking tickets for other shows too. The show’s helping to keep theatre alive and I just love that.

I think some people do arrive believing they’ve come to see the story of Take That, just happy-clappy sing-song stuff. There is an element of that, especially towards the end when you do get to join in with all the songs, but what people don’t expect is this heart-warming, and quite gritty, storyline, that is female-led. That’s a bit of a surprise and partly why it’s selling so well… people are coming back.

This won’t be the first time you’ve worked at the Bristol Hippodrome…

I can’t wait to get back. I live in Bristol and I’ve worked at the theatre front of house. It’s a lovely theatre and has such a wide range of shows.

Did you imagine then that you’d be appearing on the stage one day?

I’d already performed there. I’d been an actress for 15 or 16 years and worked a lot with the Birmingham Stage Company, so I’d been there with shows like George’s Marvellous Medicine and Horrible Histories. 

It was while working at Bristol Old Vic that I decided I could do with earning a bit more money, so I started working at The Bristol Hippodrome while appearing in shows at the same time.

I love theatre and really don’t mind whether I’m working on stage or helping the audience by showing them to their seats. I just love the whole environment and especially a theatre as beautiful as The Bristol Hippodrome. 

A lot of the friends that I made when I was working there are excited about me going back. One in particular has worked there for years and years and she’s so excited.

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The Band at Bristol Hippodrome

Other cast members will be visiting Bristol for the first time; what are your top tips for them?

I love Cheddar, so I’ll be suggesting they go to Cheddar Gorge to have a walk around and a cream tea.

I like the Harbourside too, the area around Za Za Bazaar, so we’ll go for a walk down there.

And one thing I’m definitely going to do… you know the big graffiti festival, Upfest? It’s one of my passions, I love going every year. So, I’m going to take them to find some of the art that’s still there from last year.

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It’s time for my final question - In your bio on the show’s website it says you’re a massive Take That fan and wish you could go back and tell your 16-year-old self where she’d be in 20 years’ time – what else would you tell her?

Be happy!

You get one life so live it. Don’t have regrets.

Believe in yourself and always believe what your gut tells you.

The Band plays at The Bristol Hippodrome from 17-28 April.

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David Pugh & Dafydd Rogers and Take That have announced that the UK Tour of Tim Firth’s new musical, THE BAND, with the music of Take That,  will visit Bristol Hippodrome from Tuesday 17 to Saturday 28 April 2018.

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