Stage

Toasting Breadboy's young talent

Ahead of Breadboy arriving on the stage this summer with British Youth Music Theatre, patron of the charity, Peter Duncan, tells Gail Bell how young performers are set to star in another Tony Macaulay winner

Gail Bell

FINAL auditions recently over, the stage is now set for British Youth Music Theatre's (BYMT) latest reincarnation of Belfast author Tony Macaulay's "ordinary" childhood, with the much-anticipated Breadboy opening at the Lyric in July.

Following BYMT's musical adaptation of Macaulay's acclaimed Paperboy memoir in 2018 and 2019, the leading music theatre company for young people is channelling Belfast 1977, a troubled city where lives continue against a background of bombs and bullets, punk and peace rallies - and the Bee Gees on the radio.

And longstanding patron of the charity, former Blue Peter action man, Peter Duncan, is hoping the new musical will find young stars of the future in this three-day production at the Lyric, again featuring the creative talents of Belfast singer-songwriter Duke Special and Derry stand-up comedian, Andrew Doyle.

"I didn't come through British Youth Musical Theatre myself, but as patron of the charity for more than 15 years, I know the impact it has on young people," Duncan says.

"It is interesting how it can kick off careers – people like Sam Smith and Ed Sheeran came through BYMT and others have gone on to West End theatre roles.

"There are lots of talented people who for various reasons can't or don't make it to drama school or stage school, so BYMT is another route in. It gives young people a chance - and you discover bright, new talent along the way."

The actor, presenter and former Chief Scout with the Scout Association honed his own acting skills at the National Theatre, but feels strongly that theatre should be open to all.

"BYMT really caters for ages 11 to 21, but even at primary school there is a great role for drama," he says. "I think schools, generally speaking, could do more to 'big up' the arts within an educational setting.

London-based, he won't get to Belfast to see Breadboy, but feels Macaulay has struck another chord in this second instalment of the mixed-up Belfast of his youth.

"What's so great about these stories is their local flavour but with universal appeal," says the former daredevil of Duncan Dares fame who now runs his own adventure travel company, The Natural Adventure Company.

"I thought the script for Breadboy very much made you feel how it would have felt to have been a kid in those times in Belfast.

"As well as what was going on in the wider picture, the story digs into the personal fun to be had, the realities of growing up and not wanting to be on one 'side' or the other; the necessity of people having to get on with their lives, even when things were very tricky around them. Local stories like this are always going to get good audiences."

The reality for Tony Macaulay in Belfast 1977 was his own little Belfast bubble in which he bounced around as a 14-year-old, watching Star Wars, eating 'tatey' bread and savouring newfound responsibility as the breadboy for the last "Ormo Mini-shop in the world".

In Breadboy, Macaulay is all grown up now and "nearly" shaving. He is delivering bread to the residents of the Upper Shankill in Belfast on Saturday mornings while the Bee Gees dominate the airwaves. But his love of peace and pets is soon rivalled by an interest in parallel universes and punk... and a girl called Judy Carlton who sits opposite him in chemistry.

For the young people tasked with transporting audiences back to this era through inspired dialogue, song and dance, there is real commitment combined with an appreciation of time and place, says Duncan, who started making pantomime films in his London garden when theatres shut during the pandemic.

"When BYMT did Paperboy [focusing on Macaulay's life as a 12-year-old infatuated with Doctor Who and the Bay City Rollers], the kids knew all the history of Belfast and knew how their characters fitted into it and I think that's important," he adds.

"Their parents may have lived through the Troubles, but the young performers learned how to bring that time authentically to the stage.

"I think it's great to view something like that through the eyes of a young breadboy in a coming-of-age story that casts a glance to the bigger stage but lets us see things in a different way, with its mix of teenage kicks, music, love and war. It will be another BYMT amazing production – come and see it."

:: Breadboy is at the Lyric Theatre, Belfast, from July 28-31. Lyrictheatre.co.uk

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