Tag: Ben Elton

Review: The Beautiful Game

Theatricalised slice of Irish Troubles

By Owen James

Amidst the madness of Fringe, independent company Manilla Street Productions are presenting a rarely-performed Andrew Lloyd-Webber and Tim Rice musical about the lives of a football team wrestling with pride and confrontation during ‘The Troubles’. This is a high-quality production of material that I found at times unfulfilling and disjointed, but full kudos to Manilla Street Productions for choosing to tackle this little-known show.

Lloyd-Webber’s score is nothing groundbreaking, but suitably serves the emotional elements of the story. Though rife with generic and poorly-written lyrics that hinder potential character development, there are beautiful ballads and dynamic ensemble numbers peppered throughout. The book by respected veteran writer Ben Elton is at its best when tackling the darker themes stewing beneath these characters’ lives, crafting moments of emotion that are deeply affecting.

Director/producer Karen Jemison has brought the world of 1969 Belfast to life with evident understanding of the political and religious thunderstorm these conflicted young men are swallowed by. It is this ongoing conflict – both in their heads and on the streets – that is at the heart of The Beautiful Game, where you either take a side, or someone will choose one for you. Jemison has injected the production with a realistic sense of energy and danger that makes for compelling, engaging character work.

Choreography by Sue-Ellen Shook is seamlessly integrated into blocking, executed by an ensemble at the top of their game (no pun intended). A football match dissolves into a competitive, masculine dance sequence and out again in a West Side Story-esque blend of athleticism and choreographic metaphor. Daniele Buatti’s expert musical direction embraces the tender Irish melodies and rousing, chanted anthems of Lloyd-Webber’s score with vivacity and concentrated delicacy.

Stephen Mahy brings innocence and vulnerability to ambitious footballer John Kelly. This is a great vehicle for Mahy’s talents, his versatile voice gliding over difficult high melodies with ease – Mahy can sing anything. Stephanie Wall has crafted a detailed character in love interest Mary, and executes a perfect rendition of heartfelt, part-acapella ballad ‘If This Is What We’re Fighting For’.

David Meadows is a standout as Father O’Donnell, bringing gravitas and humour to this commanding but compassionate man, and finding depth in scenes both celebratory and devastating. Des Flanagan as bitter, turbulent Thomas carries the character’s complicated arc with building intensity in a delightfully intimidating and exceptional performance.

Sound design by Marcello Lo Ricco is superb, highlighting crisp and clean vocals and every note from the nine-piece band. Lighting designer Jason Bovaird has once again transformed the intimate Chapel into a colourful paradise, creating menacing alleyways, rowdy pubs, hotel rooms and bright football ovals, all with distant, twinkling Irish hues hanging over every desperate character’s decision.

The material is undoubtedly imbued with heart and passion, but does not always connect its serious and comedic elements in a believable manner, creating a sometimes confusing dichotomy of tone. The extremely strong cast and production team of Manilla Street have played to the show’s many strengths with a very faithful, polished presentation – audiences will undoubtedly relish the professional performances and quality of this production. I cannot wait to see what Manilla Street bring us next.

Running at Chapel Off Chapel until 29th September
Tickets: https://chapeloffchapel.com.au/show/the-beautiful-game/

 

 

Melbourne 2016: WE WILL ROCK YOU

Yes, they will

By Jessica Cornish

In true Melbourne style, the first evening of Spring was ushered in by cold wind and rain, but this was no deterrent to the buzzing opening night crowd of We Will Rock You at the Regent Theatre. The show was incredibly vibrant, energetic and visually spectacular.

We Will Rock You.jpg

We Will Rock You utilises the well-known music of Queen to tell the quirky story of a society that is becoming more and more virtual, with the looming presence of Global Soft trying their best to stamp out all forms of bohemian life and of course the dreaded music of rock and roll. Despite the evil corporation’s best efforts, a small group of rebels strive for a world reunited through classic British rock.

Director Ben Elton, musical director Dave Skelton and choreographer Arlene Phillips combined forces to create a powerhouse production team. This creative strength was further complimented by a mesmerising lighting design by Willie Williams and excellent scenic design by Mark Fisher as the entire show being incredibly punchy and dynamic owed much to a set and lighting rig that was constantly moving. Box truss, LED screens and scaffolding flew in and out throughout the evening and the lighting rig was robust and well-planned. The show was consistently visually exciting and the stage looked stunning: there was even some pyro and confetti thrown into the mix, so no complaints here.

Bobby Aitken’s sound design was forceful, clear and generally well balanced. A couple of times the female vocals were drowned out in the mix by their male counterparts, although this could also be in part due to the challenging low vocal range the female performers were required to perform in the occasional bottom-heavy (pun intended) Queen songs.

Equally strong were the lead cast members and ensemble. They were all terrific triple-threat performers that were on the ball all night. Relative musical-theatre newcomer female lead Erin Clare (Scaramouche) sang beautifully and seemed to slip effortlessly in to the rebellious role. However, I felt her male counterpart Gareth Keegan (Galileo) lacked a contemporary edge to his performance which made him seem slightly wooden and not as believable as the dreamy love interest. Other leads, Jaz Flowers (Oz) and her muscly counterpart Thern Reynolds (Brit) did not miss a beat and were a pleasure to watch. Every movement and note was perfectly executed. Former 80’s rocker Brian Mannix (Buddy) was well received by the crowd and performed well however it was the former Australian Idol champion Casey Donovan who stole the show. She was – hands down – the standout performer of the evening as the glorious Killer Queen. She was charismatic and demanded attention every moment she was on stage. She gave an incredibly strong performance, and I couldn’t take my eyes off this bodacious babe, particularly in her rendition of fat bottomed girls framed by an array of women in leather and pink feather dusters.

We Will Rock You does not disappoint. It is a great starting point into the world of theatre, especially for the younger audience and of course all those with a love for Queen, and an impressively dynamic show that is both well-polished and well-executed. How can you pass this up?!

VENUE: REGENT THEATRE

SEASON: TO 30 OCTOBER

PERFORMANCE TIMES: TUES 7PM, WED–SAT 8PM, SAT MATINEE 2PM, SUNDAY 1PM & 6PM

BOOKINGS: TICKETMASTER.COM.AU OR PHONE 1300 111 011 GROUPS 8+ CALL 1300 889 278

Image by Jeff Busby