fri 24/05/2019

The Big Christmas Reunion, O2 Arena | reviews, news & interviews

The Big Christmas Reunion, O2 Arena

The Big Christmas Reunion, O2 Arena

The ITV2 reality show loses some of its humanity onstage

The cast of The Big Reunion

Screens dominate the stage at London’s O2 Arena for The Big Christmas Reunion, which seems fitting given the show is an extension of ITV2’s reality series following 5ive, Atomic Kitten, Honeyz, Liberty X, B*Witched and 911 as they get back on the pop wagon a decade after they were all disbanded or dropped by their labels. The giant TV portals loom not just physically but structurally over the whole event, introducing each act with a reel of bland skits and intro VTs borrowed straight from the small screen.

This gives the whole event the coldly lit sheen of reality TV, the structure a predictable, plodding thing and the people on stage split between their actual selves and those being shown on screen behind them. The staged portion of the night, though, has a charm all of its own, as these performers reconnect with a past life in front of your eyes, milking any opportunity to get the audience to gleefully sing their choruses back at them – something you’ve got to wonder how long it’s been since they had the opportunity to hear.

5ive (reduced to 4our by rapper J’s refusal to take part) bash their way through the solid run of “We Will Rock You”, “Everybody Get Up” and “Keep On Movin” with the same energy they had in the 1990s; 911 somehow pull off a set full of heart-fluttering backflips and leaps despite being the oldest of the bunch, and Atomic Kitten’s “Whole Again” has an arena full of people unreservedly singing every single word. Each band appears in a more mature guise than their past incarnations, Liberty X in hooded metallic jumpsuits and B*Witched (pictured above) swapping double denim for sensible outfits and less sensible heels (it’s genuinely a little terrifying when they begin Irish dancing). They all look great - possibly a little better than how some of them sound, but it’s safe to say that no one seems that interested in how the stars’ vocal cords have held up over the last 10 or so years.

Having everyone perform their most memorable number ones back to back, from “C’est La Vie” to “Just a Little”, is an exhaustive and quite exhausting journey through the Cowell- and Walsh-orchestrated domination of the charts in the late Nineties/early Noughties. What’s a real shame is that laying the tracks out in this format feels a little too instantly gratifying, almost not respectful enough; the charm of the ITV2 show was that, where it could have mocked or undermined the overnight success and industry moulding (and later abandoning) of these people, it instead humanised them and gave them a space – a dramatically edited space, but a space nevertheless – to tell their stories. On stage, though, as the lining up of their hits one after the other reveals inescapable structural similarities, it seems a little as if they’ve been put back on the conveyor belt as products.

This doesn’t diminish the obvious emotion of the performers, however, nor the connection the audience clearly feel to these pop earworms that have lain dormant in their brains for so many years now that singing them feels like being transported back in time. Kerry Katona, heavily pregnant and squeezed into a dress of unnaturally luminescent silver fabric, is the audience’s darling of the night for her complete lack of filter, pulling exhausted faces and rubbing her belly between kicks and shimmies. She sits on the steps at one point during the first half to offer the audience some advice, and this maternal moment of sincerity is a poignant one, as it speaks to so much of the format of the show – it’s got all the hallmarks of a narrative that the inescapable reality TV structure of this event wants you to follow (Kerry speaks in motivational clichés, telling the arena that if they’re down, they’ll make it back up – “you’ll get yours. I’ve got mine!”). And yet this show of humanity also somehow cracks the whole thing open.

The point of The Big Reunion is nostalgia for a strange era of massive manufactured pop and the appeal of seeing some long-lost celebrity faces, but what it becomes in actuality - when you’re watching Honeyz break down in tears with happiness at being on a stage or 911, three men in their 40s, lunge themselves acrobatically at one another - is an exposure of the fragility of people who got taken for a ride on the cresting wave of world-dominating Nineties pop. It’s an incredibly surreal thing to realise how much very sincere emotion there was driving that machine, and to see for yourself where it all goes when the cogs stop turning.

They all look great - possibly a little better than how some of them sound

rating

Editor Rating: 
3
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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