Ben Elton wows critics with Troubles football musical
A revamped, rewritten musical about a group of football-mad Northern Ireland teenagers growing up during the Troubles has proved to be a massive success if its opening weekend in Canada is anything to go by.
The Boys In The Photograph has been reworked by composer Lord Lloyd-Webber and author Ben Elton from their 2000 critical hit The Beautiful Game — and there are now high hopes the new show will go on to achieve international acclaim.
Centring on the local football team in Belfast that hunger striker Bobby Sands played for in 1969, the plot focuses on the attempt to overcome religious intolerance and violence that has engulfed their community.
The team is made up of Catholic and Protestant youths and the coach is a priest. Some of the players become members of the IRA, one gets kneecapped.
Over the course of the show, the audience discovers how the Troubles come to affect each of the players’ lives, primarly those of wisecracking hero John and his wife Mary.
However, this time around the ending has been changed by the renowned English duo so that the hero — despite being sorely tested — chooses love over hatred and peace over conflict.
Following a successful three-week trial run in Winnipeg in May the musical opened to standing ovations at the Royal Alexander Theatre in Toronto at the weekend.
It will now run until November 1 with Elton, who is directing, hoping to eclipse the success of its predecessor, which had a year-long run in London in 2000 and scooped the London Critics Award for Best New Musical.
The successful author, who has a background in comedy and theatre, said the astonishing changes in Northern Ireland over the past decade — notably peace and power-sharing between unionists and republicans – had provided the impetus to revisit the story. “Northern Ireland is unique in the world in that the conflict has effectively been resolved. It’s a beacon to the world,” he said.
“The original production was superb, but both Andrew and myself felt that it was too bleak, too dark.
“And we said that if we ever got a chance to to it again, we will change the ending and our hero will be redeemed by love.”
One of the masterminds behind the phenomenally successful Blackadder series added: “If Toronto is successful then I believe other theatre owners across North America will be interested. We’d love to see it go to Broadway, we’d love to see it back in London.”
Already, a South African production of Boys is on the cards to coincide with the FIFA World Cup next year in the country.
One Canadian writer who attended the premiere praised the production for having “something for everyone”.
“If you’re a fan of the musical, you won’t be disappointed by Boys,” he said.
“There is love and death. There are boisterous chorus numbers and heartbreaking ballads.
“Here’s hoping that it continues to play with a standing ovation, just like it did on the opening night.”
Another wrote in the Boston Globe and Mail: “The story is compelling and important.”