Dressed in a cherry-red suit and accompanied by six sequinned showgirls complete with burlesque feathered fans, the greatest showman of British talent-show pop and cringe dad dancing, Gary Barlow, appears on stage as if magicked out of thin air. A brass band launches into the showtune-inspired Who’s Driving This Thing and the Take That singer is off, tap dancing down the stairs, clicking his fingers and doing his best impression of an exuberant music hall emcee.
The roaring 20s are the production’s obvious inspiration and an early run of tracks from the 2020 album Music Made By Humans is given the big band treatment as Barlow leans into theatrics. The autobiographical song Live Those Years Again, which recalls Take That’s early years, is embellished with corny choreography. “For the next three minutes let’s relive those years,” Barlow croons, holding up three fingers, while the line, “My appetite for singing slowly dies, replaced by an appetite for pies” features a comic belly rub.
There’s no pretence at playing it cool tonight as the showgirls reappear in Santa hats and, with a toss of a wool scarf, Christmas is literally wheeled on stage. Leaning against a glittering, oversized present, Barlow covers festive classics from his recent album, The Dream of Christmas. “Come on, it’s December, let’s get into that Christmas spirit!” he shouts before climbing aboard a pantomime sleigh with Santa for a spirited rendition of Sleigh Ride.
With seasonal whiplash, Christmas fades away after only a few songs and Barlow, now dressed in a black military jacket, reappears on a B-stage at the back of the hall. Joined by saxophonist Mike Stevens, the pair perform A Million Love Songs and Barlow beams with proud delight at Stevens’ solo.
Back on the main stage, the set finishes with a speed-run through Take That’s greatest hits. After decades of belting out these songs, there’s still an earnestness to Barlow’s performance of No 1s such as Back for Good and Shine. With not a hair out of place, Barlow finishes the night with the bombastic Never Forget under a snowfall of confetti. It’s pure, saccharine joy.