The Beautiful Game, playing at Melbourne’s Chapel off Chapel, is a musical of two halves.
At the beginning there’s a feeling of hope and promise, but by the end of the two hour production there’s only despair.
As a result, as well as being one of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s least known musical creations, it’s also one of his more hard-hitting and gritty.
This maybe is the reason why The Beautiful Game, which Webber created with Ben Elton, hasn’t reached the commercial heights of many of his other shows.
The musical, which originally opened at the Cambridge Theatre in London in September 2000, is being presented in Melbourne by Manilla Street Productions.
The Beautiful Game is set in the 1970s and is centred on a Northern Ireland under-21 soccer team who plays in a local Belfast competition.
The show starts on the first day of training for a new season. The team is confident of a good year ahead and when coach Father O’Donnell takes a team photograph spirits are high. At the same time while there’s generally a good rapport between team members a couple of boys have an issue with one player – Del. The reason: Del is a Protestant and all the other team members are Catholic. While wanting to play with this friends Del is forced out of the team by these radical team members led by Thomas.
At the same time most members of the team – including star player John – and their girlfriends are trying to ignore the sectarian violence that surrounds them on a daily basis. However it eventually touches just about all members of the team with devastating results.
Stephen Mahy gives a strong performance as John, the star of the team whose bright future as an international soccer star is ruined by one act. Equally as impressive is Stephanie Wall as his love interest, Mary.
They’re very well supported by Sam Ward as Del and Ellie Nunan as his Catholic girlfriend Christine and Nicola Bowman as Bernadette who falls for one of the victims of the violence, Ginger (played by Samuel Skuthorp).
Oscar Tollofsen is believable as the petty criminal Daniel as are Des Flanagan as the IRA terrorist Thomas and David Meadows as Father O’Donnell.
Supporting the leads are an ensemble cast of 13 and nine musicians. Given the size of the Chapel off Chapel stage there must have been challenges in bringing parts of the show to life, especially the soccer scenes, but the production team do a great job.
According to Webber The Beautiful Game isn’t really about the Irish problem but about the futility of these conflicts the world over and how they keep repeating themselves.
While there are a few light hearted moments and blossoming romances, especially in the first half, Elton’s words and lyrics and Webber’s music generally reflect the tragic consequences of the actions of individuals.
As a result don’t expect to leave a performance of The Beautiful Game humming joyful tunes. You’re more likely to rather sad and pensive but then, on reflection, appreciative of the excellent work of the cast and production team.
Jenny Burns attended the opening night of The Beautiful Game as a guest of the producers.
*Photo credit: : Jodie Hutchinson.
- live threatre, review
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