Damon brings his Hollywood friends for West End show

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The Independent Culture

Matt Damon is to become the latest Hollywood actor to cross the Atlantic to star in a West End play.

With British theatre rivalling the movies as a draw for big-name talent this year, the Oscar-winner plans to bring along two celebrity friends for the show. Casey Affleck, brother of Ben, and Summer Phoenix, sister of River and Joaquin, will join Damon in This Is Our Youth, a play that has been packing in audiences at the Garrick Theatre.

The show, about mixed-up, drug-crazy teenage friends by the playwright and film director Kenneth Lonergan, hadalready secured a strong cast of American talent for its initial run to 20 April.

The producers, Clare Lawrence and Anna Waterhouse, had signed up Hayden Christensen just as he was being fêted with a Golden Globe nomination for the film Life As A House. He was joined by the former child star Anna Paquin and Jake Gyllenhaal.

But extensive networking in America and a stroke of luck have combined to secure an even stronger cast to take over on 25 April until mid-June.

By chance, Casey Affleck caught the very first matinée performance and was so struck by it that he went again that evening. He returned to New York where he raved about it to Damon.

Clare Lawrence, thought to be the youngest producer in the West End at 26, said: "They're all part of the same group of friends in New York and they decided they wanted to come and do the play together.

"I don't agree with bringing stars in for anything, but if you've got good people in and they're cast appropriately to do good work, it's fantastic. I do think it creates a buzz."

This Is Our Youth appears to have achieved the theatre world's dream of attracting an audience many of whom are in their teens and early 20s, including some who are booking on the day as if for a film.

Damon and co will be joining the likes of Madonna and Gwyneth Paltrow who have also recently announced their British stage debuts. Madonna is to appear in a play called Up For Grabs by David Williamson and Paltrow opens soon in David Auburn's Proof at the Donmar Warehouse, where Nicole Kidman blazed the way for Hollywood stars with her performance in The Blue Room.

British actors including Kenneth Branagh, Jude Law and Dame Maggie Smith are also currently reaffirming their love for live performance.

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