The Beautiful Game, presented by Manilla Street Productions, premiered on September 14 at Chapel off Chapel. Review by Kelly-Louise Austin
The Beautiful Game opens on an ordinary day in 1969 in Belfast, Ireland. We meet the local football team, all Catholics, with one atheist and a Priest as their coach. They boys are young, full of ambition and so eager to play The Beautiful Game. Along come the local girls, eventual love interests of some of the team, and the story is set. It is a journey of love, loss, football (or soccer as many of us know it), craic, civil unrest, religious and political violence, and coming of age in a very uncertain time in Ireland in the 70’s.
The evocative score by Andrew Lloyd Webber transports you straight to the Emerald Isle, carrying the story along with stunning instrumentals, incredible solo pieces and exquisite harmonies. Paired with book and lyrics by Ben Elton, who handles the often heart wrenching story with grace, empathy and touches of well-placed humor, and it is an absolute winning combination. Whilst the piece is 20 years old, its themes are still incredibly relevant to the world today.
The Lead Roles of John and Mary are played by Stephen Mahy and Stephanie Wall. These are both huge roles, with both Mahy and Wall on stage for the majority of the production. Their love story begins early in act two with the sweet and funny number Don’t Like You. From here we see their love grow, despite some dfferences in opinions about how to deal with the unrest that surrounds them. At the beginning of Act two they share The Happiest Day of Our Life, a number such with such depth and feeling, we could feel the love radiating from them. Both Mahy and Wall are strong, genuine and powerful in their roles with obvious chemistry, and all of their numbers are sung to perfection. Be prepared for Wall to tear your heart out with If This is What We’re Fighting For, a goosebumps moment where not a single member of the audience moved, we were so captivated.
Ellie Nunan brings us the cheeky, don’t care Christine, who falls for Del, the protestant/atheist of the team, despite the opposition of her friends and family. Nunan is both larger than life as well as empathetic in the character of Christine, her voice is powerful and rich, and she has several moments where her comic timing shines through. The Boys in the Photograph reprise in act 2 features her soaring voice, and was a beautiful, emotional moment.
Thomas, a fervent Irish Catholic nationalist, leads a local group of thugs and ultimately ends up working for the IRA, which leads to the downfall of several of the characters we have come to love. Des Flanagan brings troubled Thomas and takes him from likeable to detested when we learn what he has done and what he is capable of. He has a commanding stage presence with a striking voice to match, which is showcased during the passionate It Will never End.
I would like to make a special mention of the sweet, gently bullied Ginger (Gregory). A character we meet early on, and feel for, and cheer on when he finally gets the guts up to confess his love to Bernadette (Nicola Bowman). Sam Skulthorpe plays Ginger with a gorgeous heart and determined mind, and when he lets loose with Love in Peace, showcasing a stunning voice reminiscent of Josh Groban, everyone in the room fell instantly in love with him.
The Beautiful Game is directed by Karen Jemison, whose historical knowledge of the timeline shines through. It is a gut wrenching story, and she has handled the sensitive and often confronting storyline and themes with an incredible sensitivity.
The Choreography by Sue-Ellen Shook was wonderfully effective, cleverly using up the intimate space Chapel off Chapel provides. However, the standout was the Soccer Game choreography featured in The Final, it was thrilling, frantic and so realistic!
With a tight ensemble featuring gorgeous harmonies, a stunning orchestra lead by Muscial Director Daniele Buatti and the most effective simple set and lighting I have witnessed in a long time, The Beautiful Game was an incredible piece of theatre.
This is a show not to be missed. It does feature a very heavy, emotional story line, and contains adult content, coarse language, haze effects and replica firearms and is recommended for those aged 16+.
The Beautiful Game is playing at Chapel off Chapel from 13 September to 29 September.