Youth Music Theatre UK, Lyric Theatre, Belfast
My very first crush was on a paperboy (if you don't count Alan from Thunderbirds). I used to hang around the front gate, waiting until I saw him approaching on his bike, his delivery bag stuffed full of Telegraph Sixth Lates. As soon as I saw him, I'd start skipping really quickly - an 11-year-old's equivalent of twirling my hair.
So… a musical set in the 70s, and centred around a young paperboy who falls for a girl on his route was always going to strike a chord with me.
Andrew Doyle's show, based on the memoirs of Tony Macauley, bangs the nostalgia drum loudly, with its soundtrack of Bay City Rollers and references to Wagon Wheels and Olivia Newton John. The show's 28 original songs have been composed by Duke Special, offering a counterpoint to the shang-a-lang music of the era.
The story's really a snapshot of west Belfast back in the day, when the city existed in black and white; goodies and baddies. It was like Starsky and Hutch.
Young Tony inherits his older brother's paper round. Terry has moved on to a job at the Co-Op, where the shoplifting is easy. Soon Tony is delivering Teles (tabloid ones!) and running the gamut of local hoods looking to rob him, while dodging soldiers and the odd blast bomb. In between, he's playing with his band The Tits, and dreaming of Sharon Burgess.
A huge cast of more than 30, performing on an almost empty stage above a city skyline made of newsprint, make up the population of this corner of Belfast.
Much of Macauley's book has necessarily been condensed, with more emphasis put on his daydreams of aliens and the Rollers, and rather less on his relationship with his parents. This occasionally makes for a jagged narrative, where you feel part of some scenes may have been left on the cutting room floor. A song between father and son, and a moving meeting of the Peace People … "a river runs beneath us, we walk on water every day…" are stand out moments.
Last night's audience wallowed in this slice of the good old bad old days, giggling at the Belfast patois and entrenched views of yesteryear, and singing along to the Rollers.
The energetic cast serve up an extraordinary range of accents, very few of them from these parts. At times discipline is replaced by enthusiasm in their dance scenes - but it's early days in the run.
However, there's no mistaking quality when you see it and Sam Gibson as Paperboy Tony is a revelation. Amazing stage presence, terrific voice - he's the real deal.
Like any good paperboy, he delivers.