Set against the backdrop of the political and religious troubles in Northern Ireland in the late 60s and early 70’s, Manilla Street Productions presents a rare treat for lovers of musical theatre with The Beautiful Game, currently playing for a limited season at Chapel Off Chapel.
With more than a nod to West Side Story, this Irish coming-of-age story about a group of young men and women centres around a local soccer team at the start of a 30-year civil war. Under the watchful eye of coach Father O’Donnell (David Meadows), John (Stephen Mahy) and Del (Sam Ward) dream of nothing more than girls and football. But as political tensions begin to engulf their community, they have more than the fortunes of their team to worry about.
When they find love with their girlfriends Mary (Stephanie Wall) and Christine (Ellie Nunan), they become swept up in the events that engulf their community. As time passes, each has to decide whether or not to follow their hearts. Some are drawn into the conflict, while others stand aside wanting only to be allowed to live and love in peace.
With music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and book & lyrics by Ben Elton, director Karen Jemison delivers a stellar production that arches between the melancholic and sinister realities of the era. Simply staged with a number of movable panels, Jemison offers a no nonsense mise-en-scène to navigate the narrative. Each scene is artfully lit by Jason Bovaird, in colour palettes that range from the monochromatic to patriotic fervour.
Jemison has assembled a terrific ensemble cast led by Mahy, who is in fine vocal form as John. His impressive character development ranges from youthful optimism in the beginning to his ultimate conversion to the IRA with sinister overtones in the end. He is ably supported by Sam Ward as Del, Des Flanagan as Thomas and Ellie Nunan as Christine – who each bring something special to each of their roles. None more so than Stephanie Wall’s haunting rendition of If This Is What We’re Fighting For.
Sam Skulthorp as Ginger and Nicola Bowman as Bernadette delight in their sweet naivety (Love in Peace), and David Meadows as Father O’Donnell, delivers some of the best one-liners in the spirit of Elton. The show is most successful when capturing the youthful enthusiasm of the footballers, highlighting Sue-Ellen Shook’s on point choreography.
Leading a nine-piece ensemble, Daniele Buatti’s musical direction is superb. Aided by Sally Bourne’s dialect coaching and Marcello Lo Ricco’s carefully balanced sound design, the score’s stirring anthems (The Beautiful Game) are juxtaposed with heart-searing ballads (God’s Own Country and Let Us Love in Peace) that is reminiscent of the sounds of Ireland.
The Beautiful Game
Chapel Off Chapel, 12 Little Chapel Street, Prahran
Performance: Saturday 14 September 2019 – 8.00pm
Season continues to 29 September 2019
For more information, visit: www.thebeautifulgameaustralia.com.au for details.
Image: The Cast of The Beautiful Game – photo by Jodie Hutchinson
Review: Rohan Shearn