As Roy Keane faces final curtain call for United, musical joins small screen

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The Independent Online

I Keano, which has been described as "a mercifully rare cocktail of I, Claudius, Up Pompeii and South Pacific", has been a sell-out success in Ireland. Now the Father Ted writer Arthur Mathews, who co-wrote the musical with Michael Nugent, with songs by the U2 impersonator Paul Woodfull, is working with Channel 4 to develop a "made for television" version.

The musical is likely to be broadcast at some point during the 2006 World Cup, when Channel 4 is concerned that television viewers will desert the station to watch live football matches on ITV and the BBC.

Keane's premature exit from the last World Cup was perhaps the biggest story in Irish sporting history. Before a ball had been kicked in the competition Keane clashed with the Republic of Ireland's manager, Mick McCarthy, at their training camp over what he alleged were substandard facilities. A ferocious row ensued and Keane, the team's captain, was sent home. In the musical, the incident, which came to be known as the Saipan affair after the location of the training camp, is set against the backdrop of ancient Rome.

McCarthy's decision to send Keane home was the subject of national debate in Ireland. Mathews said: "Everybody in Ireland had an opinion about it, even if they weren't interested in football."

Channel 4 is likely to stick largely with the original cast, including the Irish comic actor Mario Rosenstock, who played Keano.

During its maiden run at the Olympia Theatre in Dublin earlier this year, I Keano was a huge hit, seen by more than 40,000 people. It ran for seven weeks and was the most successful show ever staged at the theatre, before moving to Keane's home county of Cork.

Shane Allen, commissioning editor for comedy and film at Channel 4, said: "It's been a massive phenomenon over there and if we get a rewritten TV version right, we'd hope the mass appeal would translate for a UK audience too."

The musical pits the character of Macartacus, a grey-haired Roman general training his men for battle on a Mediterranean island, against Keano, a great warrior with a fiery temper. Other characters include Ridiculus, a thinly veiled caricature of a Football Association of Ireland official.

Sports journalists are also lampooned in the characters of Obsequius, a lofty camp scribe, and Mischievus, a Keano-supporting prototype tabloid hack.

British theatre-goers will get the opportunity to see I Keano when it makes its UK premiere in February 2006 at the Lowry theatre in Salford, a short distance from Manchester United's home at Old Trafford.

This week, Keane, 34, announced plans to quit the Manchester United team at the end of the season.