Take That are masters of the pop theatre extravaganza. On previous outings, they have given us sophisticated mechanical elephants, a gigantic posable mannequin and a flying car (also, the now departed Robbie Williams and Jason Orange, for those who like to sweat the details). What is there left to offer now they are diminished to a threesome?
Take That ****
Something ostensibly more intimate, it would appear. The Wonderland Live tour is an in-the-round diorama-like experience, with hundreds of fans on bleachers where the Hydro stage would normally be located, and the remaining trio, dressed like camp cowboys, emerging on pop-up podia around the fringes of the crowd for that all-important illusion of dad-next-door accessibility.
Still, they threw a heck of a lot of glitter and gimmicks at the production anyway, as a handy distraction from the limp new songs - a sitar player channelling the music of the cosmos, a carnival cavalcade of dancers and stilt walking twins, a jungle wonderland with triffid-like inflatables, arty waterworks for The Flood, a gorgeous maximalist carousel for It’s All For You, plus band introductions after the first song, confetti shower on the second, tongues of fire on the third. Formula schmormula, these crazy cats just don’t care to observe the pop extravaganza conventions too closely.
Take That’s adventures in Wonderland were a colourful sensory onslaught, a superficial rather than surreal merry-go-round of parades, games and parties with a War of the Worlds-style arena disco soundtrack. Ringmasters Gary Barlow, Mark Owen and Howard Donald threw themselves gamely into the melee, seemingly unjaded by a quarter of a century in showbusiness, willing to have some self-deprecating fun at the expense of their boy band roots and perhaps quietly acknowledging that they have the work of five men to accomplish.
Yet their most beloved hits could do all the heavy lifting for them. With the exception of an all-singing, all-dancing Relight My Fire, their best songs required little of the expensive, escapist window dressing. Back For Good was a moment of simple connection as special as any effect or fancy set-piece. Likewise, Pray was delivered as straightforward performance with its fussy semaphore dance routine intact, while they saved their two most euphoric moments - the joyful communion of Never Forget and a typically twinkly Rule The World - for the feelgood encore.
*Take That play the Glasgow Hydro today and tomorrow. Take That: Wonderland Live from the O2 will be cinecast in cinemas on 9 June