Fiachra Gibbons, Arts
Lloyd Webber to pen
by Fiachra Gibbons
from Guardian Unlimited
He crossed opera with rollerskates in Starlight Express, took TS Eliot to a higher plane in Cats, and now Andrew Lloyd-Webber, the most popular composer of our age, is taking on his greatest challenge yet - The Troubles, The Musical.
Not since Mel Brooks wrote Springtime For Hitler for his spoof film The Producers has a songwriter faced such a daunting task.
Lord Lloyd Webber said he was moved to tackle the thorny question of Northern Ireland because it was good example of how bigotry ruined lives.
"Just look at Kosovo and the Middle East - it's a universal story. I wanted a personal drama set against the darkness of conflict. I've also been worrying about where modern musicals were going," he said. "This one will tackle issues."
The story mixes football and politics and will be heavily influenced by the traditional Celtic airs made fashionable by Enya and Riverdance.
Irish-born comedian Graham Norton said he wanted to be first to congratulate Lord Lloyd Webber. "It's a major boost to the peace process," he said. "I can see it uniting both North and South in a common eye-rolling experience. Good on you Andrew, keep playing that piano."
Ian Paisley, leader of the Democratic Unionist party, said: "I hardly think that this is the right time for a musical. I haven't read the script but given the very tense state we are in at the moment it seems very unwise." When told that Ben Elton, the comedian, was writing the book, Mr Paisley said: "Any attempt to find the comic side of the Troubles would be misplaced."
Sinn Fein, which represents the area where the musical is set, was gobsmacked. "Get away out of it! You're pulling our legs, aren't you?" a spokesman said.
Lloyd-Webber, who owns a stately home in Tipperary, was inspired to write the score for The Beautiful Game - which could be premiered at the end of next year - after watching a documentary about a west Belfast Gaelic football team.
The composer, who is a Leyton Orient fan, was deeply moved by the story of what happened to the 1968 league-winning team from the Holy Cross school. BBC journalist Fergal Keane tracked down the surviving members who lived in the Catholic enclave of Ardoyne, encircled on all sides by hostile Protestant areas.
One had died at the hands of loyalists in a random sectarian attack, another was "executed" by the IRA who claimed he was an informer. The teacher who took their team picture that year was shot dead in his home by the UVF. Several others had fled.
Lloyd-Webber is no stranger to controversy. He was lambasted by the American religious right for Jesus Christ Superstar and got into similar hot water with Peronists over Evita.
His spokesman said he was distressed by rumours that The Beautiful Game had anything to do with the hunger striker Bobby Sands. "He played for another team, a soccer team. The musical is not based on anyone alive or dead, but has been inspired by what happened in Northern Ireland. It will tell the stories of how a group of boys' potential is stunted by the Troubles and will end with an upbeat affirmation of life culminating with the signing of the Good Friday agreement."