Jimmy McGovern, now best known as a BAFTA Award-winning TV writer, returns to the theatre after a 20-year absence next week when his much-anticipated musical King Cotton receives its world premiere at The Lowry in Manchester, where it runs from 14 to 22 September 2007 before transferring to Liverpool Empire from 25 to 29 September.

The musical - featuring a live brass band and traditional American spiritual music - tells the story of the struggle to break free from poverty and slavery, seen through the eyes of Sokoto, a black slave working on an American cotton plantation and those of Tom, an impoverished mill worker in the north-west of England.

It’s based on an original idea by Ian Brownbill, who is also the musical supervisor for the production. Southbank Centre artistic director Jude Kelly directs the premiere, with design by Ti Green.

King Cotton stars Israel Oyelumade as Sokoto, Paul Anderson as Tom and John Henshaw as God as well as Kirsty Hoiles, Nolan Frederick and Emma Jay Thomas. Also in the cast are Paul Barnhill, Wendy Mae Brown, John Elkington, Cornelius Macarthy and Vanessa White Smith.

Jimmy McGovern’s TV credits include Cracker, Gunpowder, Treason and Plot, Brookside, The Lakes, The Street and the BAFTA Award-winning Hillsborough, the TV dramatisation of the infamous football stadium disaster. For the big screen, he’s written Priest, and the script for Mary Queen of Scots, starring Scarlett Johannson, which is currently in production.

King Cotton is designed by Ti Green (Coram Boy, for which she won a Tony nomination, Hound of the Baskervilles, Julius Caesar) and produced by The Lowry, co-commissioned by Liverpool Culture Company and supported by the National Lottery through Arts Council England.

Meanwhile, The Hired Man - the 1984 musical by composer Howard Goodall, who was originally due to provide the music for King Cotton - is embarking on its first-ever regional tour. It opens today (6 September 2007) at Nottingham’s Lakeside Arts Centre before continuing to more than 80 venues, including myriad village halls and schools. The tour culminates, from 4 to 8 March 2008, at Greenwich Theatre.

Set in rural Cumbria at the beginning of the 20th century, The Hired Man is about a young married couple and their struggle to make a living from the land just before the First World War. Goodall co-wrote the musical with Melvyn Bragg; it’s based on the life of Bragg’s grandfather. This chamber production for New Perspectives is directed by Daniel Buckroyd.

The Hired Man won the Ivor Novello and TMA Awards for Best Musical and was nominated for four Oliviers. Goodall’s other stage credits have included Girlfriends, Days of Hope, Silas Marner, The Kissing-Dance, The Dreaming and Jason and the Argonauts.

Like McGovern, Goodall is now well known for his television success. His many popular TV themes include those for Blackadder, Mr Bean, Red Dwarf, The Catherine Tate Show and The Vicar of Dibley.

- by Tom Atkins