He Shoots! He Scores! – A Musical With Balls continues at Above The Stag, London until 20 August.
Star rating: four stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ✩
Whatever you may think of the sport, football is probably the game that’s most often been tackled in musical theatre. There’s Lloyd Webber’s Beautiful Game of course and then Howard Goodall’s Bend It Like Beckham and now the team responsible for the Above The Stag pantomimes has created He Shoots! He Scores! – A Musical With Balls. With a world premiere timed to coincide with the London Pride celebrations, He Shoots! He Scores is a hilarious romp through the world of gay football.
Taking inspiration from the steady rise in popularity of gay sports groups authors, Jon Bradfield and Martin Hooper have created a refreshingly engaging story, packed with plenty of ribald humour and coupled with a score which is arguably Bradfield’s best to date.
Last year’s stripper musical Get ‘Em Off was amiable enough and featured some fun lyrics, but here there is a greater sense of composition and construction. The songs not only echo the emotional narrative of the story but they present a much broader variety of styles while remaining true to the tone of the piece. Bradfield has always been a strong lyricist and finally he has written the score to match.
This said, much of the fun of He Shoots! He Scores! comes from Hooper and Bradfield’s book, which doesn’t always take the obvious path.
When Joe moves to London, he joins the Hercules Harriers to make new friends and take his mind off the guy he left back home in the sticks. Keen to up the Harriers’ game, Joe suggests a tournament and the enthusiastic Tayzr signs them up for a five-aside contest in Spain.
Their excitement is short-lived when they discover that it isn’t a gay tournament after all and Tayzr has changed the team’s name from the Harriers to Club Tropicana Drinks FC. Suddenly they are the only gay team in a straight tournament and what is worse, Joe’s ex turns up with a rich, handsome fiancée in tow.
Aside from some dangerously funny one-liners, the book manages to capture something of the struggle every young gay man experiences when trying to fit in with his peers. The football match may be the vehicle but this is a show about finding your place in the world, while remaining true to yourself.
Director Robert McWhir keeps the mood playful, without sacrificing the power of the more introspective moments. Carole Todd’s flamboyant choreography mashes up edgy, masculine lines with old-school, high-kicking cakewalks.
An enthusiastic company tackles the musical numbers with gusto and there are some fine performances, not least from Jamie Barwood as the conflicted Joe.
Newcomer Tom Mann as Liam and Andrew Cannon as Norwegian Matthias develop a fascinating chemistry as their bromance turns up a notch, prompting the hilarious Act II opener ‘Straight Boys’.
Much of the more bawdy comedy is provided by Duncan Burt as the camp, outspoken Tayzr. Burt could quite easily bubble over-the-top in his interpretation, but like many of the characters they are all pretty grounded in reality.
He Shoots! He Scores! is an affectionately old-fashioned concoction and if you feel that the happy ending is a tad formulaic, then get over it!
The celebratory tone chimed perfectly with the Pride festivities but, more importantly, it further cements an already successful writing team’s segue into musical theatre.