We return to the Babcock Theatre with the U.S. premiere of The Beautiful Game with Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Lyrics and Book by Ben Elton. This politically and religiously charged romantic musical tells the story of ordinary people in extraordinary times. Choreographed by Musical Theatre graduate Jesse Klick and directed by Musical Theatre Program Head Denny Berry, the production runs February 16-March 4 at the Babcock Theatre.
Set amid The Troubles in Northern Ireland, this late 1960s coming-of-age musical is about a group of young men and women who are involved with a local soccer team at the start of a 30-year civil war. The amateur Catholic soccer team finds themselves torn between becoming professionals and fighting for their country. Some are drawn into the conflict, while others stand aside wanting only to be allowed to live and love in peace. It speaks of love, the things that keep us human, and the reality of dashed dreams.
Writer Ben Elton tells the story with humor and compassion, with lyrics that are both funny and heartbreaking. In the program note from the original 2000 production he wrote, “Although this is an Irish story, taking place in Belfast—a brave big-hearted city that I know well, having performed there many times—I hope that the themes and sentiments of The Beautiful Game are universal.”
The significance of this production in today’s society will be discussed through a panel discussion lead by Theatre Instructor and Production Dramaturg, Mark Fossen on February 23, immediately after the evening production.
From the Dramaturg:
“We’re at war, Mary. We’ve been at war for eight hundred years.”
By Mark Fossen, Dramaturg
The Beautiful Game looks at the early years of “The Troubles.” But the complicated history of Ireland dates at least as far back as the 1171 the invasion of Ireland by the English King Henry II—the beginning of centuries of English rule over the island.
The political and territorial conflict between the native Irish and the colonizing English took on a religious aspect in 1534 when King Henry VIII broke from the Roman Catholic Church and founded the Church of England. The Irish were staunchly Roman Catholic and loyal to the Pope, and the religious division multiplied their grievances against the English. King James I took the English throne after the death of Elizabeth I in 1603, unifying the crowns of Scotland, Ireland, and England. He began a project to settle the Plantation of Ulster in what is now Northern Ireland with Protestant English and Scottish settlers in order to suppress a hotbed of rebellion on the island.
In 1688, the Catholic King James II was overthrown in the Glorious Revolution and fled to Ireland to find support amongst the Catholic populace, only to be defeated by the Protestant William of Orange, who is celebrated by the Protestant Unionist faction to this day. William ascended the English throne in 1689, and established the Protestant Ascendency—a series of repressive laws designed to strip the native populace of political and economic power, enabling the Protestant minority to hold political and economic power over the Catholic majority.
By the dawn of the 20th Century, the political movement towards Irish self-governance reached a climax in the 1916 Easter Rebellion and the War for Independence, which established the Republic of Ireland as an independent nation. However, the counties of Ulster remained part of the Union as a separate Northern Ireland.
The late 1960s saw the beginning of a 30-year conflict in Northern Ireland between the paramilitary Irish Republican Army and the Unionist forces, supported by the British Army.
The Beautiful Game begins near the start of The Troubles—specifically, the weekend of August 12-14, 1969, as violence broke out in Derry in “The Battle of the Bogside.” A Protestant march celebrating a 1689 victory by William of Orange’s forces passed near the Catholic area of Bogside, sparking three days of deadly violence between Catholic and Protestant forces.
The Troubles would consume Northern Ireland for three decades, overflowing at times to England and even mainland Europe. In the Good Friday Agreement of 1998, the Republic of Ireland recognized Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom. But both countries agreed that Northern Ireland could join the Republic, should a majority in both vote for the change.
For more information about The Beautiful Game and “The Troubles,” please visit our
dramaturgical website at http://beautifulgame2018.wordpress.com