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Andrew Lloyd Webber’s latest musical is a collaboration with Ben Elton to produce “The Beautiful Game” – a powerful and moving story of an under-21s football team in Belfast in 1969, and their subsequent involvement and membership of the IRA. “The Beautiful Game” is currently playing at the Cambridge Theatre in the West End. I saw it on the afternoon performance of 28th July 2001. The Story Did you ever see Blood Brothers (Willy Russell musical)? The story of The Beautiful Game is reminiscent – it deals with the friendship of a group of lads growing up in Belfast, and their love of the Beautiful Game – football. The story covers about ten years, and as it progresses the group of friends gradually become more and more divided by their prejudices and the prejudices of those around them. I must confess I’m not really a football fan, and when I entered the theatre I was a little concerned that this was going to be a musical set in Belfast about football. I could not have been more wrong – this is a musical about the friendships, loves and hates of a group of youngsters who happen to love football. The strong theme is of love in a divided society. This is not exactly Romeo and Juliet, but it does have similarities. There are several relationships formed as the story progresses, relationships which are each strained or torn apart by social and political circumstances. The Beautiful Game is a fascinating, well thought-out and powerful story that keeps you interested all the way through. I’m sorry that I’m not being more specific here about the details of the storyline, but I don’t want to spoil it for anyone, so I’m erring on the side of caution. The Music If you like Andrew Lloyd Webber’s other musicals you’ll love this. There is a very broad range of music here, for example: - Full cast production numbers remini scent of football terrace songs - Slow and poignant love songs - Catchy up-tempo songs, with a strong Irish flavour That’s not an exhaustive list (I really must go and listen to the album I bought a few more times). Generally, I was delighted with the music. With a new musical, I’m always wary that the music might turn out to be a bit bland and forgettable. Not so here – there’s plenty of variety to keep the listener’s interest. It was nice to hear that the Irish accents were strongly carried through into the songs – this worked extremely well. The Performance The cast really put their all into this show. There was no evidence of a lack-lustre performance for the afternoon show. Songs were punched out with energy. Diction was clear in the solo songs (although in the “football terrace style” words were harder to hear clearly). This musical actually has quite a lot of plain acting in it too, and this was executed well. Accents were convincing and the characters were developed well. The inevitable conflicts were biting and convincing. Dancing was very interesting. Can you imagine trying to dance as if playing football? It’s hard enough to imagine, so I imagine it was extremely hard to do! There was more than one football match portrayed in dance, and it worked well. It was clearly dance and not football (there was no ball, of course, although they do play with a tin can at one point), but the dance cleverly gave the impression of a football match. The Set, Lighting and Sound When you enter the theatre you are presented with a very stark, empty stage. Everything is black – black proscenium, black floor, black back. Back of the set is basically a huge industrial building – dirty and black, covered with the usual drainpipes and blocked up doors and windows. It feels very much like the sort of dirty back alley you would encounter in any lar ge city. The plaster (concrete) of the proscenium is hacked away in places, exposing the metal strengthening rods. The only thing that lifts the black stage is a stark white pair of goalposts, projected onto the middle of the back wall. Once the show gets underway, the colour is added by the cast and the lighting. This is not a stark looking show – much of the colour and variety between (and within) scenes is created using light. Much of it is strongly side-lit, creating a harsh and provocative mood. The show certainly has its fair share of special effects, one or two of which caused my jaw to drop. But for the sake of not giving things away, I won’t say any more than that. Sound-wise, the show was spot on. The orchestra were dead on, and the sound crisp and clear. Conclusion This musical has had its fair share of being panned by the critics. It’s not surprising really – anyone as successful as Andrew Lloyd Webber will always attract critics who have decided before they go in what they are going to write. You should brush aside any poor review you may have seen – if you like Andrew Lloyd Webber I strongly recommend you see this musical… even if you don’t like football!
Even though The Beautiful Game (TBG) only started previews on the 5th of September, and we had tickets for the 11th, I'd already heard a lot about the show before I saw it. And I was not disappointed. TBG is set in Belfast in 1969, and follows the fortunes of a teenage football team and their girlfriends, as they search for ways to live and love in peace. The main thing I'd heard was that the show was not suitable for children, and it certainly is not. There's a lot of swearing, the jokes are adult, and there's quite a lot of violence. That said, it's an amazing show. It's not sung through - unlike many other Andrew Lloyd Webber shows - and several scenes are mostly dialogue. But this does work, because (for example in Whistle Down the Wind) the tunes used for the 'dialogue' sections can be overused, so by the time you get to the actual song you're sick of the tune. In TBG, although one song in particular ('Don't Like You') was reprised at least one too many times, the tunes are good and used well. I was humming 'Our Kind of Love' for days afterwards. So in summary - don't take the kids (take them to see Starlight Express or something), be prepared for some bad language and violence, and then be prepared to have a great evening! Really different from anything Lloyd Webber's done before, but still amazing.
The Beautiful Game is ALW's first show for two years or so. A collaboration with the comedian Ben Elton, marketed as a musical about football (hence the title) and love but in reality these themes take a backseat to the politics of Ireland. First off, for anyone thinking of going to see the show, be warned that there is a lot of bad language. I am no prude, but I was shocked although given the nature of Ben Elton's previous form then I should have expected it!!!! As I said earlier, although the themes of football and love are important ones the main core of the work revolves around the religious divides in Ireland as seen in the 1970s. The football theme becomes symbolic within the work. The set is very basic, an empty stage with very little in the way of special effects. Ben Elton's script is at times hilariously funny, yet can be intensely moving and direct. The cast without execption are all fantastic. With no star names to sell the show, as has become somewhat the norm for the West End (eg The Graduate, Notre Dame de Paris etc), they are all made up of actors first and foremost. The strength of the cast will turn into one of the strengths of the show. Essentially, the music takes a back seat to the dialogue. There is one song in particular that strikes me as being particularly bad, but now, two days on, I cannot remember the others. They are all performed well by a fantastic tiny orchestra - no recorded music and huge orchestral resources used here. This show has reverted back to minimal effects and resources, letting the story tell itself. The direction and production helps in this aim. The story comes through clearly and strongly. Overall it is a very different show to what I was expecting. There are few special effects, a funny script, small orchestra. Everything gelled together well - I could not believe I was watching the first preview. It is not a feel-good show though. The story beco mes quite heavy and intense, so if you like to go the theatre to be entertained and have fun, this may not be the show for you, even with Ben Elton's input. The only thing that slightly unnerved me about the whole show was the treatment of the storyline. Should the troubles in Ireland be given a comedy treatment, even if this does not overshadow the message of the show?