It’s turning in to a great season for the student theatre showcases – the British Theatre Academy (which features Cameron Mackintosh on its website) is split between Southwark and Stockwell Playhouses with high-energy performances including Lin-Manuel Miranda’s early work Bring It On. The longer-established and more determinedly teenage National Youth Music Theatre meanwhile has taken up Andrew Lloyd Webber’s invitation to a residency at The Other Palace where on the first day of the football season, it was a pleasure to attend The Beautiful Game.

Lloyd Webber’s 1999 score combines with a crude book by Ben Elton which attempted to shoehorn the 400-year old religious disagreement in Belfast as well as ‘The Troubles’ into a Sharks vs Jets format. That the young students in this cast make sense both of the emotion and the politics is a tribute to the carefulness of their acting and Hannah Chissick‘s direction: this is a warm and affecting production of what may be Lloyd Webber’s weakest work until Love Never Dies.

It’s a pity that copyright doesn’t allow it to be rehashed in a contemporary time and place as, perhaps, a rivalry between skinhead and Asian gangs somewhere like Leicester.  It could be electrifying, but the protests would probably close the Curve Theatre.

Since neither Elton nor the noble Lord is an Irishman, music and lyrics are palpably derivative, but derived with genuine skill. With the opening anthem ‘God’s Own Country’ and the bittersweet lilting sentimentality of ‘The Boys in the Photograph’ the cast of The Beautiful Game can raise hairs on the back of your neck. There are some excellent voices and, particularly among the girls, difficult-to-achieve harmonies are superbly sung but surprisingly feebly accompanied on a cheap-sounding keyboard played by MD Benjamin Holder.

The only ‘takeaway’ song in The Beautiful Game is ‘Our Kind of Love’ once memorably delivered by Hannah Waddingham, then removed and repurposed by Lloyd Webber for his subsequent Phantom-sequel Love Never Dies where it was jacked up a further octave so Sierra Boggess could frighten the bats in the rafters. The melody has remarkable similarity to the theme from the 1960 Shirley Maclaine/Jack Lemmon movie The Apartment but it was a great number, and you miss it.

Patron Jasper Britton makes a splendid Father O’Donnell, the young leads are perfectly fine, the ensemble flawless but there are two performers whose stage presence and maturity hold your attention whenever they’re on stage: Paul French as Daniel, and Lucy Carter as Christine.

Although some cast members hail from Northern Ireland, the dialogue coaching seems quite unvaried – perhaps we are authentically confined to a few streets in West Belfast – and while Matt Cole‘s choreography is modern it is a touch unchallenging for such a capable company.  That’s one area where the BTA sets the bar higher.

NYMT continue their season with The Legend of Sleepy Hollow until August 25. I’m sure it’s worth a look.