6th November 2023
This week, Sheffield Theatres share their latest online production ‘The Band Plays On’. This production is unique in its format and it works brilliantly. It is part concert, part play and part film and it very much is a love letter to Sheffield, although audiences from up and down the country are sure to love it. A powerhouse cast of West End talent each share a story from Sheffield’s history, and then perform hit songs from Sheffield’s past in between.
Chris Bush (Standing at the Sky’s Edge, Nine Lessons and Carols, The Assassination of Katie Hopkins) is the writer of this production. She is a regular writer for Sheffield Theatres and it’s clear she knows and loves the city. All five monologues are full of heart and bursting with emotion. Robert Hastie (Guys and Dolls, Standing at the Sky’s Edge, The York Realist) and Anthony Lau co-direct this production. They do an excellent job at making the piece feel like theatre whilst also making the most of the fact that it is film. However the transitions between monologues and songs could have been smoother at times. They very much felt like stand alone pieces and it would have been better for everything to feel a bit more connected.
Ben Stones (Standing at the Sky’s Edge, Frost/Nixon, The Watsons) designs the show. The set is simple but creative and clever. The whole space is utilised brilliantly and Kid Acne’s art really adds to the design and makes the show feel even more rooted in Sheffield. Will Stuart (Standing at the Sky’s Edge, A Christmas Carol) is musical supervisor and provides the arrangements for the songs. The music sounds incredible, despite it not appearing that there was a huge number of musicians on stage. It really does feel like a full blown rock concert at times! The simple arrangements for the final song ‘Beginners‘ by Slow Club are beautiful and it’s a really tender moment of the production.
The cast for this production are outstanding! Maimuna Memon (Standing at the Sky’s Edge, Jesus Christ Superstar, Lazarus) opens the show with a brilliant rendition of I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor by the Arctic Monkeys. Her vocals suit the song perfectly and she has a huge amount of energy to start off the show. Her monologue, Sheffield Rules, which comes later is enjoyable and filmed brilliantly, making use of parts of the theatre not usually seen. The story she shares brings some great insight into what it’s like to grow up as a female in sport.
Anna-Jane Casey (Annie Get Your Gun, Calendar Girls the Musical, Girl from the North Country) brings the first monologue, Bunker Boy. This starts the show off well and she is completely engaging to watch. Her performance of Don’t Let Him Waste Your Time by Jarvis Cocker is gorgeous. Her voice is delightful to listen to.
Sandra Marvin (Show Boat, Romantics Anonymous, A Christmas Carol) really gets to show her range. She commands the stage completely with her rendition of Pour Some Sugar On Me by Def Leppard and comes across a rock goddess! Later on in the production, her monologue Flood Gates is heart-wrenching and infuriating, discussing The Great Sheffield Floods and questioning whether things have actually progressed since then.
Jodie Prenger (A Taste of Honey, Abigail’s Party, Winner of BBC’s I’d Do Anything) is a joy to watch. Her monologue, Sanctuary, commenting on Sheffield being a City of Sanctuary from a slightly different perspective is brilliantly performed and she is warm and could easily be someone living down your road. Her vocals are beautiful in her performance of The Crying Game by Dave Berry and it’s clear why she’s become so established in the musical theatre industry.
Jocasta Almgill (Rent, & Juliet, West Side Story) completes the cast. Her monologue, We’re Alright, was probably my favourite in the show and discussed some very real and relatable issues surrounding the Brexit debate. Her rendition of Sing It Back by Moloko was just gorgeous to listen to.
The Band Plays On is a great example of how to do online theatre well. Although the flow of the piece could be improved, it is a fantastic opportunity to see five sensational performers belt out brilliant songs and deliver very well written monologues. It is relatable and current, whilst offering some escapism and hope for the future. And if nothing else, this production is absolute proof that musical theatre performers can act!!!
Be sure to get your tickets to stream The Band Plays On on demand. Tickets costs £20 and can be bought here through the Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse, as part of the show’s digital tour. The show is available to stream until Sunday 28th March.