Saturday, July 30, 2022

Breadboy – part lament, part hope-filled musical memoire (British Youth Music Theatre at Lyric Theatre until Sunday 31 July)

British Youth Music Theatre have been back in Belfast at the Lyric Theatre. They specialise in rehearsing and staging new musical theatre. Breadboy builds on two previous pre-pandemic runs of Paperboy, both adapted from the well-known memoires written by Shankill Road-reared Tony Macaulay.

The gist of the story is that pacifist Tony has outgrown his paper round and picks up a job working on the Ormo mini shop that drives around selling bread and sugary goodies to local residents. It’s 1977 and the King is dead, hormones are flowing, his school is auditioning pupils for a musical, and the streets aren’t always safe at night.

The production can be judged through many lenses.

The score, lyrics and book retain the recognisable essence of Tony Macaulay. Yes the younger and naïve paperboy who things happened to in 1975 has now matured into a 1977 breadboy who is figuring out what he thinks and feels about the dark and menacing aspects of society. But the countercultural and terribly uncool love of sci-fi and ABBA is still there.

Duke Special’s score stretches from poppy celebrations (Superstar) to sweet duets (The Burning, Invisible World), contains a tearjerker of a reprise of A River Runs Beneath Us from Paperboy, as well as beautifully dispensing with all unnecessary foreshadowing of key changes and just charges into the next line. The West Side Story medley that accompanies the auditions in the second act is superb and shows off the vocal talent of many cast members. Andrew Doyle’s use of Belfast vernacular creates a lot of humour in the dialogue and some crazy lyrics.

Another aspect of the production is the set and choreography that make extended use of crowd control barriers that can break up the stage, provide perches for the cast to loiter, all the while harking back to the days of conflict where they kept crowds away from bomb scares and unsafe buildings. The improvised Ormo van is stuffed full of bread and fizzy drinks. But the best wheeled prop is Tony’s typewriter table which is propelled at speed back and forth across the stage– along with the actor – like an air hockey puck during Stop The Press.

The Ormo van provides cover for the neat transition between 14-year-old Tony (Judah McKee) and his older self (Jude Leng) when the story jumps three years ahead in time. Both McKee and Leng deliver their at times dense dialogue, starting and stopping their explanatory asides to the audience with a click of their fingers, and expressing the growing unease with which the central character views his world.

Colin Bracken has fun with the role of a left-wing Elvis who is a wonderfully surreal presence in many crowd scenes, part of the internal world that Tony inhabited. He also neatly doubles up as a UVF hard man. Sam Downey is disco-tastic as tall posh Timothy, charming the girls and never missing a chance to steal the limelight for himself.

There’s romantic mirroring with Tony only having eyes for Judy Carlton (Millie Downes) who can’t even remember his name – “She doesn’t know that I exist / She’s like a vivisectionist who takes a scalpel to my heart” – and Irene (Juliette Pierce) who Tony brushes off despite her attempts to grab his attention over many year. Both actors have great singing voices for Tonight – the West Side Story subplot gives many of the cast a chance to show off their talents – but it’s Pierce who gets to develop her character from a quiet wallflower to a campaigning young woman seeking justice in the rehearsal room. But will Tony notice this kindred spirit?

Molly Houlahan also deserves a special mention for Denise’s comically-broad Belfast rendition of I Feel Pretty as does Iona Holt who injects a lot of life and plenty of attitude into Tony’s spirit-fuelled Granny. Interestingly, the audience on press night didn’t have the nerve to applaud her beautifully constructed and deliberately sectarian grace said before the Macaulay family tuck into a cooked breakfast.

Part lament, part hope-filled, Breadboy watches a young man grow up, shaped by mentors like his next-door neighbour Mt Oliver (Matthew Lawson) whose life is cruelly cut down, and figuring out what he wants to stand for and speak out about. The script manages to dilute the occasional moments of preachiness with a quick splash of humour (aren’t Alliance wishy-washy middle-of-the-road, but that’s what they say about ABBA). A final video connects the late 1970’s characters with the modern actors and the continued existence of physical barriers – peace walls – in the cityscape.

Staging a new work under the pressure of time with a large cast is always going to be a tricky exercise. A longer rehearsal window might have given directors Steven Dexter and Dean Johnson scope to improve some of the accents and helped relax some cast members into a better rhythm for their longer bursts of dialogue.

To have secured such solid choreography, singing and confidence with lines in such a short period, and kept the heart and soul of a coming-of-age story about coming to terms with a fractured world is a credit to the performers and the creative team.

One of the lyrics reads “the children of tomorrow will forget about the war”. Hopefully, the Breadboy and his van will pass by this way again and another group of youngsters will be able to bring the past and the future to life as they hone their musical theatre skills and make sure that the past is understood and not forgotten. 

Photo credit: Chris Hill

Enjoyed this review? Why click on the Buy Me a Tea button!


Anonymous said...

2 weeks to learn a whole show and a different accent is a feat in itself, professionals can't even master the Belfast accent! I thought the kids were amazing for their first ever show.

Anonymous said...

Was an excellent production

Anonymous said...

Hi Alan, great article, one correction though, it’s Jude LENG not Jude Long. Really looking forward to seeing it today. Many thanks.

Philip & Joanne said...

What a fantastic and moving show ! We all loved it parents, teens and 20s. Well done to the whole cast ! This show deserves a bigger run.

Anonymous said...

I know the young fella was a 14 year old grammar schoolboy but couldn’t fathom the Craigavad accent from a Ballygomartin native. Just like Glasgow Belfast humour comes largely from the colloquialisms and key characters either couldn’t do them or weren’t given them. I know it was a musical but Theatre at the Mill does the genre more justice. Recruitment campaign up the Shankill and down the Falls would help guys. Byro