Greatest Days

Aug 30 2023 | By More

★★★★☆     I found heaven

Edinburgh Playhouse: Mon 28 Aug – Sat 2 Sept 2023
Review by Martin Gray

It’s time to Take That & Party as Greatest Days reopens Edinburgh Playhouse this week after its extended summer break for a spot of external refurbishment.

So far as jukebox musicals go, Greatest Days is up there with Mamma Mia. It has the songs, it has a heartwarming story and it has that something extra – a direct route to fans’ hearts.

Because this show is about fans of Take That, even if the name of the group Rachel, Debbie, Zoe, Claire and Heather worship is never mentioned. It’s always ‘the Boys’.

The young fans – Hannah Brown, Mary Moore, Olivia Hallett, Kitty Harris and Mari McGinlay. Pic Alastair Muir

Writer Tim Firth sets his story in two time periods, the Nineties and today, showing how quickly supposedly forever friendships can be fractured, how dreams can be displaced and how it’s never too late to embrace your younger self.

In the Nineties, the girls gather at school daily to swoon over their idols and dream of the future – Debbie recreates the group’s choreography in preparation for the day she makes her debut as a dancer on Top of the Pops. Super swot Zoe looks forward to university. Claire is a competitive diver with her eye on the Olympics. Heather plans to be a fashion designer. And Rachel aims to marry one of the Boys… all five, if they’re lucky.

everything changes

One day, thanks to Debbie winning a contest, they get to see the band in concert, but on the way home, everything changes.

Today, it’s Rachel who has won a contest. The Boys have reformed after a split and she has won four tickets to see them play in Athens. Longtime partner Jeff assumes he’s going, and asks a couple of pals along. But Rachel emails the friends she’s not seen in 25 years…

The Boys – Regan Gascoigne, Archie Durrant, Jamie Corner, Kalifa Burton and Alexanda O’Reilly. Pic: Alastair Muir

Now, if you’ve done the maths, you’ll have noticed that four tickets are mentioned, but we had five girls. Spoiler, something happened to one of Rachel’s pals. And the presentation of this is the only moment in the play – co-directed by Firth and Stacey Haynes – that doesn’t work. It’s announced to the audience by young Rachel in a seriously understated way. A choice has been made to underplay a pivotal event but the Playhouse is a big theatre, and the attempt at intimacy falls flat.

That apart, this is a seriously good show. It’s cleverly structured and studded with the superb, character-based one-liners with which Firth made his name in the likes of All Quiet on the Preston Front and Calendar Girls. The songs of Take That, both self penned and borrowed, such as Patience, Relight My Fire, The Flood, Pray, Could It be Magic and Back For Good are cleverly chosen to hit the script’s emotional beats. And the performances are extremely watchable.

Two casts

It’s always fascinating to see two casts playing one set of characters at different ages, assessing how well the doubled actors match. But drat it, I was so immersed in the show that I didn’t bother. I just enjoyed nine talented ladies – Jennifer Ellison, Holly Ashton, Jamie-Rose Monk, Rachel Marwood, Mary Moore, Olivia Hallett, Hannah Brown, Mari McGinlay and Kitty Harris – singing, dancing and acting their socks off.

Jennifer Ellison and Olivia Hallett. Pic: Alastair Muir.

Ellison is the best-known name here, having had a long stint in Brookside, guested in many other TV shows and done some great theatre work. Here she plays Rachel, our entry point to the drama, and she nails the part, giving us a woman afraid to admit she’s not as happy as she probably should be. Ellison has real stage presence, a luminosity, but she happily steps into the ensemble numbers alongside her talented stage sisters.

Every one of the actresses serves the script splendidly, having fun with the gags and leaning into the more emotionally heavy scenes. One of the best staged moments of the night comes as the Nineties transitions into today, with the older girls taking over from their younger selves to the ridiculously hummable Never Forget. Colour-coded costumes help us remember who’s who, but it’s not really necessary, these are good actors.


As are the two gentlemen of the cast, Alan Stocks as a Dave for every occasion – see the show and you’ll get what I mean – and Keith Henderson as Rachel’s partner Jeff, a wonderfully warm everyman.

Olivia Hallett (centre) with The Boys. Pic AlastairMuir

As for the Boys, the seriously talented Kalifa Burton, Jamie Corner, Archie Durrant, Regan Gasgoigne and Alexanda O’Reilly don’t get a single line of dialogue, but that’s not their role. They’re a Greek chorus – literally in one magical scene – to help the girls make sense of the world, and themselves.

The Boys burst out of cupboards, they’re on airport runways, atop a craggy hillside… They’re especially useful to Rachel who, when pain is present, asks them to sing louder. But they’re not stooges, these avatars of song and dance have minds of their own…

A couple of times the ‘real’ Boys get to perform, and it’s great to see the lads in the spotlight, with their performance of The Flood being a highlight of the show (though perhaps not one for the strobe sensitive).


The evening is topped off by the best megamix encore this side of Joseph, with MD Josh Cottell’s powerful five-piece combo sending the crowd wild.

While the show ends, as so many plays do, with a wedding, Greatest Days isn’t about romantic love. It’s about the love of friends, and learning to love yourself – who you were, who you are, and who you might be. And all set against some of the greatest pop songs ever written.

Running time: Two hours and 10 minutes (including one interval)
Edinburgh Playhouse, 18 – 22 Greenside Place, EH1 3AA.
Mon 28 Aug – Sat 2 Sept 2023
Evening Mon – Sat: 7.30pm; Matinee Wed, Sat: 2.30pm.
Tickets and details: Book here.

The cast of Greatest Days Pic: Alastair Muir


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