Andrew Lloyd-Webber and playwright-comedian Ben Elton are collaborating on a new musical about a fictional Northern Irish football team. The Beautiful Game is planned for an autumn 2000 West End premiere.
According to this week's Sunday Times, the two were inspired by a recent BBC television documentary about Bobby Sands, the IRA hunger-striker, and the Belfast-based Star of Sea amateur football club, which he played for as a teenager in the late 1960s. Sands was a defender for the non-sectarian club before the Troubles tore the team apart. One of Sands' Protestant team mates later served a prison sentence for loyalist paramilitary activity while Sands was imprisoned for his IRA involvement and starved to death in the Maze prison in 1981.
Daniel Bee, spokesman for the Really Useful Group, however, denies this, insisting that the musical has nothing to do with Sands or any real person living or dead. He confirms that the musical is set in Belfast, starting most probably in the late 1960s, and that it does involve "some teenage boys who have in common that that they're on a football team". The story, says Bee, will follow the characters over some 20 to 30 years as they grow up against the backdrop of religious and political conflict. Beyond that, he says, "it is far too early to say what exactly it is about". The project is still in development, due to go into workshop around February 2000.
The idea for The Beautiful Game reportedly came first from Elton who has already outlined the script. Lloyd-Webber is now composing the music, drawing heavily on Celtic influences.
Lloyd Webber is well-known for his many musicals including Cats, Starlight Express, Phantom of the Opera and Whistle Down the Wind, all continuing long runs in the West End.
Elton started his career as a stand-up comedian but has gone on to great success as a novelist, scriptwriter and playwright. He created the "Blackadder" television series and his plays include Blast from the Past and the Olivier Award-winning Popcorn, both based on his own comic novels. He is currently directing his first feature film, "Maybe Baby," based on his new novel, "Inconceivable," which is published next month.