Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals are usually spectacular affairs, filled with grand openings, heavy themes, and powerful music. Fortunately, The Beautiful Game (written by Ben Elton) continues in that style, and Manilla Street Productions have done an impressive job with this production, making it worthwhile to see. Although, clocking in at 2 hours in length (plus an interval), make sure you make a proper evening of it at the comfortable Chapel Off Chapel venue – this is not a quick and easy show, so go all out if you can!
The Beautiful Game is a musical that is both suited and yet removed from our times. We live in a time of tribalism and increasing violence, where people use identity as a weapon to oppress or excuse violence, a theme that ran through The Troubles that rocked Northern Ireland (when the play is set). It explores the paths to radicalisation, and the human cost of senseless violence in the name of some abstract concept. Fear is a theme that is played upon, and how love (mostly romantic, but also platonic and of sport) can be crushed under the weight of it or hatreds. In this age of the alt-right, Islamic extremism, and of rampant and belligerent nationalism (among other “isms”), The Beautiful Game is a pointed reminder of what is going on, and that this type of violence has come before – and it has consequences.
And yet The Troubles are also tied to their place and time. In an increasingly secular Australia, religion is not the main identifier for most people – the idea that an Australian would murder someone for their faith is mostly bizarre. Even the rise of anti-Muslim sentiment it is usually tied in with racial hatred as much as religious bigotry. Ireland is slightly removed from Australia as well – our indigenous peoples were simply massacred, whereas the Irish were under a colonial thumb more akin to serfdom. It created a unique set of circumstances that created a unique situation, and although it has universal application in some ways, it is also removed from our own. Nevertheless, it is important to remember that the universal elements of the show outweigh the particulars.
Also, it is fundamentally a show about lost and frightened people – based on those merits alone, it does well.
Manilla Street Productions did an excellent job with casting and production in bringing the musical to life. The costumes were well done and were clearly well researched and thought out, and the choreography was excellent – having an actual football match onstage was really well done, and it was exciting to watch. The acting and singing were all on point, and each performer clearly knew what they were doing at every second – it was nice to see the professionalism and intensity. The effort that has gone into the production is evident and has paid off.
The soundtrack was a little disappointing at first it must be admitted. The sound had not been perfectly balanced initially, although after a few seconds they got into it, and things managed to fortunately work out when the singing started. The musicians all nailed their parts (sadly they were all offstage) for the most part, and apart from the balance at times (and one or two minor near misses), the music was quite well done. That being said, the chorus parts were a bit disappointing as they could sometimes be drowned out by the band. But the songs themselves were rousing and emotional as required, and had that Lloyd Webber catchiness about them. As an aside, it was nice to know there was an all-female percussion section – it is a rare thing to see (or at least be aware of), so well done on that front.
Overall, a strong musical with powerful themes that has been masterfully put together for the most part. With the universal themes of violence, fear, and love (both romantic and of the game)