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The Boys in the Photograph

Ben Elton and Andrew Lloyd Webber's stirring musical set in 1970s Ireland is deeply poignant. logo
The cast from The Boys in the Photograph
(© Bruce Monk)
Sociopolitical themed storytelling is risky business -- often leaving audiences feeling as if they've just sat through a church sermon rather than a theatrical event -- but a lesson on how to deliver that sort of narrative is on view with The Boys in the Photograph, Ben Elton and Andrew Lloyd Webber's stirring musical now in Toronto. Originally entitled The Beautiful Game -- and unveiled in London's West End almost a decade ago -- this deeply poignant work revisits the horrors of Ireland's sectarian violence between Catholics and Protestants that exploded in the early 1970s.

The show begins with the aspirations of the members of a teenage soccer club, which is preparing for a championship match led by John Kelly (Tony Lepage) and field mates Del (Brandon McGibbon) and Ginger (Shawn Meunier). Victory is in the cards if Father O'Donnell (Richard McMillan) can keep his lads focused on the game and not female fans Mary (Erica Peck), Christine (Tracy Dawson), and Bernadette (Jacquelyn French) who stand on the sidelines to cheer them on. Budding romance inevitably blooms, but so does repulsive religious intolerance in light of British security forces that roam the city.

When a politically neutral John responds to the call of duty and rescues his IRA allegiant friend, Thomas (Richard Harte), his dreams of becoming a soccer star come crashing down. What awaits him in detention alters the essence of his belief system, and his now-beloved Mary soon fails to recognize the person she fell in love with.

Elton and Webber's score is infused with rock numbers when it needs to and powers down with gentler musical moments when it has to. Indeed, the musical diversification prevents the story from feeling like a watered-down drama. Elton, who also directed, has a clear vision of how the scenes are required to play out --including archived news footage of the besieged setting -- and gets pulsating performances from a group of talented performers.

In the end, The Boys In The Photograph is a testimony to the similarities between the emotions that draw us together and the feelings that tear us apart.

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