Review: Gary Barlow's A Different Stage is the hottest ticket and biggest party in Edinburgh

It's the hottest ticket and the biggest party in town right now, packed with laughter, tears and a good old fashioned sing-along - there's a bit of screaming too, but then for many, Take That’s Gary Barlow will always be a heart-throb.
Gary Barlow promoting his 2020 album Music Played By HumansGary Barlow promoting his 2020 album Music Played By Humans
Gary Barlow promoting his 2020 album Music Played By Humans

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Gary Barlow – A Different Stage FIVE STARS

Royal Lyceum Theatre, Grindlay Street

A Different StageA Different Stage
A Different Stage

The last time I saw Barlow on an Edinburgh stage he was a teenager, dressed like a stripper, dancing his heart out in a short-lived night club on Shandwick Place with a then little known boy band.

Just over three decades later, it's a very different performance that brings the award-winning singer/songwriter to the Royal Lyceum, this week.

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A Different Stage finds the 51-year-old fleshing out the details of what happened following that early Capital appearance as he and Take That took the pop world by storm, but he starts by recalling a childhood obsessed by music.

Penned with dramatist Tim Firth, whose previous work includes The Band and Calendar Girls, it’s a life affirming tale, a stroll through the milestones of the singer's life and that people and events that made him the person he is today.

Against a backstage backdrop of cleverly placed flight cases and spotlights, he wanders on stage in a red Adidas tracksuit top, smart trousers and trainers with a cup of tea in hand. It's a relaxed, down to earth opening that sets the tone for what is to come.

A Different Stage might be his story, but up there, alone on stage with just a grand piano and some keyboards for company, Barlow holds his audience rapt throughout. It's no mean feat, the two hour script would be a big learn for any actor and the singer is more than up to the task. His natural charm and easy connection with the audience is born of years performing, making him a candidly open and honest storyteller.

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Immaculately directed and confidently performed, it's a nostalgia fuelled and unexpectedly funny show. From his arrival into the world on January 20, 1971, nothing is off limits, all related with a light touch. There's tragedy and loss too, heart-breaking moments that changed him.

Still, if Barlow learned from an early age that music makes things better, he also realises laughter does too. His self deprecating humour is beguiling.

Act 2 opens with him carrying a few extra pounds as he reflects on the darker side of life in the music business, however, he soon has the audience smiling again and ready to party.

Building towards its climax, A Different Stage comes closer to being a concert at times - Want You Back has some sobbing, Let Me Go starts the clapping, These Days has folk on their feet and Never Forget has everyone up, hands in the air, clapping - but this production is far more than just a show for fans, it's the story of a life well lived.

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Singing live, Barlow's voice has lost none of warmth and resonance and as the finale unfolds he has one last surprise... which elicits screams of delight.

If you're a fan, this show could be the greatest show of your life, if you're not it's a nostalgia filled feel-good evening in the company of a great showman.

Run ends 27 March

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