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Paperboy review at Lyric Theatre, Belfast – ‘charming and imaginative

Sam Gibson and the cast of Paperboy at Lyric Theatre, Belfast
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The Belfast Telegraph is a Northern Ireland institution. In its day it was widely looked upon by both communities as the news gospel. The boys and men who delivered it around the doors and on the streets are part of urban folklore, their job a coveted badge of honour.

Tony Macaulay grew up in the Protestant Upper Shankill area of the city. Paperboy, his vivid rites-of-passage account of daily life in Belfast in 1975 recalled a period when the conflict was at its height and everyday incidents of bombs and bullets provided the papers’s core content. That memoir is now a stage musical, adapted for Youth Music Theatre UK by the tried and tested partnership of composer Duke Special and writer/lyricist Andrew Doyle.

Dean Johnson and Steven Dexter’s production brims with youthful exuberance, illuminated by the outstandingly engaging presence of Sam Gibson in the title role. Production standards are high and Natalia Alvarez’s staging, dominated by a newsprint silhouette of the city skyline, is pacy and imaginative.

As expected, the songs are charming and filled with musical surprises but the overstretched narrative diminishes significant threads like the father/son relationship and the cross-community Peace People movement, though the emergence of the latter is movingly conveyed by Honor Brigg’s lead singing in A River Runs Beneath Us.

YMT’s stated mission is the provision of the highest quality training for talented young theatre practitioners and, with this in mind, one can’t help wishing that the direction had harnessed the infectious energy of the young cast into more focused, consistent performances.

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An engaging central performance by a young newcomer compensates for the uneven adaptation of an atmospheric story