Gary Barlow: A Different Stage, Duke of York’s Theatre, 2022
Photo by Claire Kramer MacKinnon
  • Theatre, Musicals
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Gary Barlow: ‘A Different Stage’ review

4 out of 5 stars

The Take That frontman plays the hits – and the audience – beautifully in this slick one-man-show


Time Out says

When I took my mum to see Gary ‘Ooh isn’t he lovely’ Barlow, there was a moment when I lost sight of her near the loos. It was tough picking her out of the lineup. This audience is wall-to-wall mature ladies, out to get tiddly, have a giggle and get a bit closer to the blonde lad from Frodsham, Cheshire, whose swoopingly romantic ballads and sweet falsetto crooning were the beating heart of pop megagroup, Take That.

I’m happy to say those ladies got everything they came for and more. Barlow’s one-man show is a hoot. Stubbled, tracksuited and as chipper as a squirrel with a Nutribullet, the 50-something Barlow has come a long way from the smalltown teen who used to ride his BMX to the park and watch the lights of the M54, dreaming of stardom. He now has thousands of hours of performances under his belt and it shows: he nails this two-hour tour of his life and music like the pro he is, the audience lapping up every joke and revelation as he holds them in the palm of his hand.

It’s a far cry from a massive stadium gig: strippped back, intimate, the magic ingredients are a piano, a heap of packing crates and – hilariously – a Simon Le Bon wig. You can relax: it’s funny, it’s confessional and it’s comfortable and exudes the kind of slick affability Barlow would have admired many times from behind when he was a teenage organ prodigy, supporting Bob Monkhouse and other northern circuit acts as they passed through his local British Legion club. He’s now as rich as Croesus and doesn’t have to do this. But he has hired a theatrical A team to help him make it good; his regular collaborator Tim Firth directs, and the subtle and marvellous Es Devlin and Bruno Poet on set and lighting. Barlow looks very, very comfortable parlaying his triumphs and disasters into crowd-pleasing anecdotes: the teenage mega-stardom; his feud with co-star Robbie Williams; Take That’s acrimonious split; failing to break America; retreating behind the gates of his mansion and ballooning to 17 stone on a diet of spliffs, Quality Street and the local all you can eat Chinese takeaway… it’s all told with a twinkle, a self-deprecating shrug and a tinkle of the old ivories. 

The music is a treat. I’m not a die-hard Take That fan. Unlike the women behind me who got, actually, so over-excited after the interval champagne that one of them started blubbing and barking like a dog. That aside,  this guy penned era-defining ’90s pop melodies and it’s a treat to hear him unpack and sing ‘Million Love Songs’, ‘Back For Good’ and their ilk, close up and personally. 

Barlow’s voice has aged incredibly well; it’s acquired depth and feeling compared to the effortless lightness of his youth. A moment where he switches off the mic and goes acoustic is genuinely electrifying. That emotional depth doesn’t come over in the chat, the script’s tone is uniformly light and pleasing, even when it touches on truly awful episodes like the birth of his stillborn daughter Poppy. He realised at an early age, says Barlow, that ‘music makes things better’. And this is a show which, like its star, only ever aims to please - a rather lovely, humble and old-fashioned impulse for stardom. Unlike most theatre shows this one never outstays its welcome: there are no boring bits, and none of the usual theatre watch-checking moments, not even for the long-suffering husbands who get dragged along. Congratulations to Barlow’s dad who worked years of overtime to pay for the organ, and to his mum who still shows up to all his northern gigs: their support and faith is amply rewarded here in a sweet, funny, soaringly musical show that thanks them very nicely, and in a man who is clearly at peace with himself.


Event website:
£27.50-£209.90. Runs 2hr
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