Alan Bennett, arguably Britain's greatest living playwright, is to team up with Michael Gambon, one of the best actors of a generation, in the National Theatre's new season.
Sir Michael was confirmed yesterday as the star of Bennett's latest play, The Habit of Art, which will open at the Lyttelton in the autumn. And they will be joined by Nicholas Hytner, Frances De la Tour and Alex Jennings.
Hytner, head of the National Theatre and fresh from his acclaimed staging of Phèdre with Helen Mirren, is to direct the play. His direction marks a reunion for Hytner and Bennett who have worked together on The History Boys and The Madness of King George.
Bennett wrote both works and Hitner directed The History Boys on stage and the film version of the Oscar-nominated The Madness of King George.
Sir Michael, who was described as the Great Gambon by no less a figure than Ralph Richardson, is similarly resuming a professional acquaintance with Bennett. He starred as Guy Burgess in a radio dramatisation of Bennett's An Englishman Abroad and they both worked on an adaptation of The Wind in the Willows.
The Habit of Art tells the story of an imagined meeting of the poet WH Auden and the composer Benjamin Britten 25 years after they parted company in real life having fallen out disasterously. "It looks at the unsettling desires of two difficult men, and at the ethics of biography. It reflects on growing old, on creativity and inspiration, and on persisting when all passion's spent: ultimately, on the habit of art," the National said.