The Beautiful Game

MSP The Beautiful Game photo by Jodie HutchinsonA story of ordinary people in an extraordinary situation, Manilla Street Productions presents Andrew Lloyd Webber and Ben Elton’s The Beautiful Game at Chapel Off Chapel this September.

The award-winning musical follows the fortunes of a local football (soccer) team, who attempt to overcome the emerging political and religious violence that has engulfed their community during “The Troubles” in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

Under the watchful eye of team coach Father O’Donnell, John and Del both show enough promise to pursue careers as professional footballers. They’re just two regular teenagers who dream of nothing more than girls and football.

When they find love with their girlfriends Mary and Christine, they become swept up in the events that engulf their community and, as time passes, each has to decide whether or not to follow their hearts.

Ben Elton’s book is told with humour and compassion, while his lyrics are both funny and heartbreaking. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s evocative score combines heart-searing ballads and stirring anthems with the sounds of Ireland.

Although created almost 20 years ago, “this piece isn’t really about the Irish problem but about the futility of these conflicts the world over and how they keep repeating themselves,” says Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Although this is an Irish story, the themes and sentiments of The Beautiful Game are universal. All over the world communities are challenged by violence and hatred.

“What these characters go through as teenagers is both shocking and heart breaking and because the show plays out against the real struggles of Northern Ireland at that time, it makes the story even more poignant,” says the show’s producer and director, Karen Jemison.

Jemison has assembled a stellar cast including Stephen Mahy as John and Stephanie Wall as Mary. Joining them will be Nicola Bowman, Des Flanagan, David Meadows, Ellie Nunan, Samuel Skuthorp, Oscar Tollofsen and Sam Ward.

The ensemble will feature Finn Alexander, Robbie Breugelmans, Rebecca Cullinan, Liam Dodds, Emma Drysdale, Jake Gardner, Mikey Halcrow, Lachlan Hamill, Quin Kelly, Sophie Loughran, Jessica Mills, Bronson Pfeiler and Matthew Prime.

The creative team features Daniele Buatti as musical director, conducting an orchestra of nine, choreography by Sue-Ellen Shook, lighting design by Jason Bovaird and sound design by Marcello Lo Ricco.

The Beautiful Game made its official world premiere in September 2000 at the West End’s Cambridge Theatre. Directed by Robert Carsen, with choreography by Meryl Tankard, the production ran for almost a year and was honored with the Best Musical Award at the Critics’ Circle Theatre Awards in 2000.

The show was subsequently reworked by Lloyd Webber and Elton and was known for a few years as The Boys in the Photograph; it received a workshop by students at the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts in April 2008. A full-scale production later played in Canada in Winnipeg, Manitoba and Toronto,

The Beautiful Game was produced for the first time in Northern Ireland by Fusion Theatre in February 2012 and was subsequently seen at Ireland’s Waterford Festival of Light Opera. Other productions include a successful London fringe staging at Southwark’s Union Theatre in spring 2014, and the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts in August 2016, which was directed and choreographed by Tankard.

The Beautiful Game is an intelligent, touching and thought provoking musical that will have you leaving the theatre with much to talk about and reflect on. “I enjoy producing musicals that audiences haven’t seen before and The Beautiful Game is a real treat,” added Jemison. “If you combine a powerful story with a beautiful Andrew Lloyd Webber score, you’ve got a fabulous show!”

The Beautiful Game
Chapel Off Chapel, 12 Little Chapel Street, Prahran
Season: 14 – 29 September 2019

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Image: The Beautiful Game – photo by Jodie Hutchinson