Aaron Sorkin's To Kill A Mockingbird performed to 18,000 children at Madison Square Garden ahead of West End run

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Playwright Aaron Sorkin has said he “can’t wait” to bring his record-breaking Broadway production of To Kill A Mockingbird to the West End following a special performance for 18,000 schoolchildren at Madison Square Garden in New York.

Since it opened in December 2018, Sorkin’s play based on Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 1960 novel has attracted critical acclaim and become the most successful play in New York theatre history.

Rehearsals for the London production, which will star Rhys Ifans as lawyer Atticus Finch, begin in April before it premieres at the Gielgud Theatre in May.

Sorkin, who won an Oscar for The Social Network and numerous Emmys for The West Wing, told the Standard: “I can’t wait. It’s a very big deal. Look, first of all just on a purely personal level, every American playwright longs to be validated by the British. So just having a play on the West End is a really big deal.

“I’ve done it once before with A Few Good Men [performed in London in 2005] and I loved the experience. I loved the London audiences, I loved the theatres.”

Yesterday Ed Harris as Finch, left, led the one-off performance at Madison Square Garden, home to the Knicks basketball team.

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It was the first time the venue has staged a Broadway show and organisers claimed it was “the largest attendance at a single performance of a theatrical work ever in world theatre”.

After an introduction by filmmaker Spike Lee, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and his wife, writer Chirlane McCray, pupils responded to the show with cheers, applause and gasps.

Sorkin said of the performance: “For a long time I’ve wanted to make theatre more accessible to people who just don’t have the means to go see the best theatre in America, which is in New York, where they live.”

He said he is intrigued to see how the play, set in Thirties Alabama, will be received by Londoners.

“I’m going to be curious to see what the response is in London relative to the response here in New York. I know that the book is just as widely read there as it is here and my guess is that the play’s themes of decency are universal.”

He praised Ifans and warned Londoners not to expect it to be the same as the book or the 1962 film.

“[Ifans] is going to be fantastic. I have no doubt about that. I don’t want to put pressure on him too early, but he’s going to blow the doors off the place.

“Most people who come to the theatre and see the play have read the book and or seen the film and they’re going to see that this is something a little bit different than that.”

He said that the script, “heavily influenced by the Trump presidency”, wasn’t going to change for the London show, but added: “We’ll let the West End production be its own animal.”

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