Albarn finds inspiration for musical in multicultural west London

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The Independent Culture

Damon Albarn is working with the National Theatre on a musical about multicultural west London to be staged next year.

Albarn, the Blur and Gorillaz artist who has also worked with musicians in Africa, is writing the music and lyrics for the show in collaboration with the award-winning playwright Roy Williams.

The tentative storyline is of two families, one white, one black, living in Ladbroke Grove, home of the Notting Hill Carnival, and is sppread across four decades.

Nicholas Hytner, the director of the National Theatre, announced details of the project yesterday alongside his plans for the rest of 2006, which will involve stars including Juliet Stevenson, Dominic West, Simon Russell Beale and Alex Jennings.

"Damon is one of the most fertile and inventive musicians of the moment," Mr Hytner said. "It will enable him to develop his passionate interest in the wide variety of musical styles that emerged from the streets of Ladbroke Grove and Notting Hill in four decades."

The idea emerged about four years ago after the theatre had invited writers and musicians to attend a workshop. Albarn had been unable to come but had contacted the theatre to say he would be keen to work for it.

After considering a number of ideas, the Ladbroke Grove musical emerged.

Albarn has been working with Roy Williams in the National's development studio on and off for the past nine months, although the finished work is not expected before next year. It was an example of the kind of collaboration Mr Hytner hoped the theatre would present in future as a result of seeds planted in recent years. Tom Morris, an associate of the National Theatre who developed Jerry Springer - The Opera when he ran the Battersea Arts Centre,is overseeing the project but Mr Hytner might direct.

Mr Hytner said Travelex had renewed its sponsorship, which pays for two-thirds of tickets in the Olivier Theatre to be sold for£10 for eight months of the year.

The programme of work to be presented this spring and summer addressed what he described as the big theme of the moment - "the clash of reason and unreason, secular truth and religious faith".

Simon Russell Beale will star in Bertolt Brecht's The Life of Galileo adapted by David Hare and in Ben Jonson's comedy The Alchemist, working alongside Alex Jennings for the first time.

Mr Hytner said he believed the pairing would prove as rewarding as the legendary theatrical partnership of Sir John Gielgud and Sir Ralph Richardson.

Dominic West and Julian Glover will star in The Voysey Inheritance, Harley Granville Barker's 1905 drama about corporate corruption. Juliet Stevenson will appear in Chekhov's The Seagull alongside Ben Whishaw, the young actor Trevor Nunn plucked from obscurity to play Hamlet. There will be new plays by David Eldridge, whose other work includes the adaptation of Festen; Conor McPherson, the author of The Weir; and J T Rogers, a young American whose work has not yet been seen in Britain.

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