Musical: I was a teenage sex god

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The Independent Culture
BOYBAND GIELGUD THEATRE

LONDON

WELL, IT'S not Pinter, but then, it was never going to be. Meaningful pauses have been replaced by vacuous brains, observations on human nature by toothpaste smiles, and meditations on power by synthetic arguments with band-managers. The only question you are left pondering as you leave the theatre is whether fluoride destroys the brain - your ears are awash with simplistic harmonies, and meaningless apparitions are still dancing before your eyes. The plot is anorexic, and the stars are two-dimensional: so I predict, with the deepest depression, that this musical will go far.

Boyband picks up on that old favourite, the rags to riches and riches to cynicism theme. It has plucked five unknowns to play five boys who have made it as pop-stars - modelling themselves on the myriad boybands which also started off as unknowns. It may be pushing the boundaries of reality to suggest that this production could be indulging in double ironies, but it is difficult to work out whether the musical's creators are actually trying to create a new boyband, or whether they are content with merely creating a narrative about a boyband laced with saccharine satire. Did they want the audience to go home talking about the boys' pecs or their piercing observations - in other words, were the band members objects for masturbation or meditation? Audience members I talked to didn't know, and as far as I'm aware, once they'd finished screaming, they didn't care.

Peter Quilter apparently created this musical because he thought that since so many people were interested in reading about wrangles behind the scenes of bands like Take That, they would be equally enthusiastic about seeing such disputes on stage. In order to create the simulacrum of fame necessary to make the dramatic structure (and I use the term loosely) stand up, he has collaborated with producers and musicians who have impressive credentials. Keith Beauvais has written for Take That and Tom Jones, Paul Taylor has worked with Texas and M People, and Darius Zickus has worked with Brian Eno.

Building on music that still, however, manages to give new meaning to blandness, Peter Rowe's production emphasises the necessarily two-dimensional nature of being a heart-throb. Facial expressions are flattened into posterdom, vices are made invisible, and genuine complex love interests are pressed into the background and overlaid with glitter.

The one interesting angle of this show - though you know Pinter would make far better work of this - is the power game that comes into play once you entirely sign your life over to another person, supposedly for your own good. Bryan Murray, as the boys' manager, is appropriately cynical, and gets the best lines of all the cast - like: "When was the last time you heard of a boyband that could actually sing?" The rest of the performers have slight character differentiations, but none that you'd really notice. At the end of the day you're best off staring at their pecs.

A version of this review appeared in later editions of yesterday's paper (0171-494 5065)

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