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An official poster for Monkey: Journey To The West

Monkey: Journey To The West is an opera that is a stage adaptation of the Chinese novel Journey To The West conceived by Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett in collaboration with Chinese actor and director Chen Shi Zheng in 2005. The opera made its world premiere at the Manchester International Festival in 2007 as a part of the opening show.


In 2004, Chinese actor and director Chen Shi Zheng was looking for people to work with on a stage adaptation of the legendary 16th century Chinese novel Journey To The West. A dramaturgy (rough draft) of the project had been worked on by Chen, but he had not yet identified a composer for the project. He went to Alex Poots, the director of the Manchester International Festival, who then suggested Damon Albarn.

Around this time, Gorillaz were set to play at the Manchester Opera House for a Demon Days Live concert. When approached by Shi Zheng about the idea of adapting Journey To The West into a stage performance, Albarn & Hewlett were interested and they met with Poots and Choplin to discuss the collaboration. The first thing that Hewlett and Albarn thought of when approached about the idea was an adaptation of Journey To The West was ‘Monkey’, a Television adaptation of the story from the 1970s they watched when they were children, and that would serve as the main inspiration behind their Opera adaptation.

Role As a Gorillaz project[]


Olympics 2008 Monkey Movie - BBC Sport

Animation of Monkey: Journey To The West made for BBC coverage of the 2008 Beijing Olympics

Albarn and Hewlett have both referred to Monkey: Journey To The West as a Gorillaz project. Originally, they intended for the soundtrack to be released as a Gorillaz project, under the Gorillaz name, but were unable to do so for legal reasons.[1]"This is the next Gorillaz project," Hewlett said in an interview with City Life.[2] Murdoc wrote a review of Monkey on Myspace comparing the characters from the Opera to Gorillaz, calling them the Chinese version of Gorillaz, saying that Pigsy is Russel, Sandy is 2-D, Tripitaka is Noodle, and Monkey is Murdoc himself.[3]Hewlett once mentioned in an interview that Gorillaz and Terry Gilliam were at some point in talks about creating an animated film adaptation of Monkey: Journey To The West starring Gorillaz acting as the main characters.[4]


  • After this Opera, Damon and Jamie once approached Watchmen creator Alan Moore and offered to collaborate with him on an Opera about superheroes.[5]
    • This project would later turn into Damon Albarn’s Dr. Dee opera in 2012.
  • Although Damon was the composer for the music, the lyrics were written by the curator for the project Chen Shi Zheng.
  • Pigsy in Space, a song from the Opera, was used in an episode of the Adult Swim show Off The Air, during the end credits skit of the episode ‘Body’.[6]
  • Artwork for the Opera was featured on trains running from London to Manchester that took visitors to the Manchester International Festival.[7]