The Beautiful Game
The Other Palace, London
Seen August 16th, 2018
Reviewed by Mark Sykes
NYMT was established in 1976 and has had some illustrious alumni and patrons over the years, including Kerry Ellis, Sheridan Smith, Jude Law and Idris Elba, to name but a few. NYMT provides young people with training and mentoring in musical theatre, both those wanting to tread the boards as well as those wanting a career in the creative and technical aspects of theatre.
NYMT’s 2018 summer season features four musicals, three being performed at The Other Palace as part of a 3-week residency. I had never been to a NYMT performance before, but my interest was piqued when I saw that they were doing a production of The Beautiful Game, having seen the original West End production of this back in 2000 (lead by Hannah Waddingham).
The Beautiful Game has music by Andrew Lloyd Webber with book & lyrics by Ben Elton and is set in Belfast between 1969 and 1972. Whilst it has football at its core, the focus is on a group of youngsters dealing with the troubles of the day in Northern Ireland.
One of the perennial issues when putting on a show at The Other Palace is the size of the stage. It’s much smaller than its larger West End cousins, so much credit should be given to choreographer Matt Cole for both the opening football match sequence and the cup final that happens later on. Having so many people on stage at the same time and interpreting a football match in dance could be fraught with issues, but the energy and coordination on display was an impressive feat.
If you listen to the soundtrack, one of the highlights is God’s Own Country. Led by the central character Mary, it provides NYMT’s Aliza Vakil one of numerous occasions during the show where her stage presence and performance belies her youth, as is excellent throughout. Mary’s relationship with John is one of the centre pieces of the story as they fall in love, get married and have a child; but John gets drawn into the troubles of the time and gets incarcerated for having helped his best friend escape from the police. On his release from prison, John has some unfinished business to deal with much to the consternation of Mary; but finally the two are re-united as John seeks some level of redemption for past mistakes. Rueben Browne plays John, and at just 19 years old, gives an impressive performance in conveying the emotions of being torn between family and helping wayward friends.
The character Thomas is one of the main protagonists involved in trouble-making activities, and is commendably performed here by Ned Costello. The scene which leads to someone being ‘knee-capped’ is fraught with tension and provides a jolt to the heart when the gun goes off. The experienced Jasper Britton plays Father O’Donnell, and provides much of the light relief in what at times can seem like a very dark musical; but even with the subject matter at hand, Ben Elton’s lyrics continue to throw in the laughs throughout, helping to lighten the mood.
Director Hannah Crissick has done a sterling job bringing The Beautiful Game back to the stage. All of the NYMT casts members deserve credit in their performance, including Paul French, Edd Conroy, Rory Jeffers, Lucy Carter, TiernaMcNally and all of the ensemble members. Given their age and experience, they all dealt with the subject matter superbly. I only learned after the show that Andrew Lloyd Webber was in the audience the same evening as me; he must have left a very proud man.
The Beautiful Game may deal with issues seen as no longer relevant given the troubles of Northern Ireland belong largely to a bygone era. But the issues at the heart of this story still exist, not only across the Irish Sea but with parallels across the world as religion and violence seem ever intertwined. It’s a story that continues needing to be told. The original cast album is available to listen on Spotify. If you have an account, click here to listen.
The Beautiful Game was staged by NYMT at The Other Palace, 15-18 August 2018.