Donmar Warehouse in 2015
|Public transit||Covent Garden|
|Owner||Leased to trust|
(Ambassador Theatre Group)
|Type||Subsidised (Nonprofit organization)|
|Capacity||251 plus 20 standing places|
Sam Mendes, Michael Grandage and Josie Rourke have all served as artistic director, a post held since 2019 by Michael Longhurst. The theatre has a diverse artistic policy that includes new writing, contemporary reappraisals of European classics, British and American drama and small-scale musical theatre.
As well as presenting at least six productions a year at its home in Covent Garden, every year the Donmar tours one in-house production in the UK.
Theatrical producer Donald Albery formed Donmar Productions around 1953, with the name derived from the first three letters of his name and the first three letters of his wife's middle name, Margaret. In 1961, he bought the warehouse, a building that in the 1870s had been a vat room and hops warehouse for the local brewery in Covent Garden, and in the 1920s had been used as a film studio and then the Covent Garden Market banana-ripening depot. His son Ian Albery, a producer and theatre design consultant, converted the warehouse into a private rehearsal studio.
In 1977, the Royal Shakespeare Company acquired it as a theatre and renamed it the Warehouse, converting and equipping at "immense speed". The first show, which opened on 18 July 1977, was Schweik in the Second World War, directed by Howard Davies, which transferred from the Other Place in Stratford. The electricity for the theatre was turned on just 30 minutes before curtain up, and the concrete steps up to the theatre were still wet.
The Warehouse was an RSC workshop as much as a showcase and the seasons were remarkably innovative, including Trevor Nunn's acclaimed Stratford 1976 Macbeth, starring Judi Dench and Ian McKellen, which opened at the Covent Garden venue in September 1977 before transferring to the Young Vic. The RSC went on to stage numerous acclaimed productions, both original and transfers from The Other Place, Stratford. In 1980 nearly all the RSC company were involved in Nicholas Nickleby so a new two hander was found from the pile of submitted scripts. Educating Rita, with Julie Walters and Mark Kingston directed by Mike Ockrent, went on to be one of the RSC's biggest successes.
From 1983 to 1989 it came under the artistic directorship of Nica Burns.
In 1990, Roger Wingate was responsible for the acquisition of the Donmar Warehouse. He completely rebuilt and re-equipped it in the form it is known today. Prior to its reopening in 1992, Roger Wingate appointed Sam Mendes as the theatre’s first Artistic Director. As a board member and theatrical producer, Roger Wingate remains closely involved with the Donmar to the present day.
The Donmar became an independent producing house in 1992 with Sam Mendes as artistic director. His opening production was Stephen Sondheim's Assassins. He followed this with a series of classic revivals.
Among Mendes' productions were John Kander and Fred Ebb's Cabaret, Tennessee Williams's The Glass Menagerie, Stephen Sondheim's Company, Alan Bennett's Habeas Corpus and his farewell duo of Chekhov's Uncle Vanya and Twelfth Night, which transferred to the Brooklyn Academy of Music.
Under Mendes, Matthew Warchus's production of Sam Shepard's True West, Katie Mitchell's of Beckett's Endgame, David Leveaux's of Sophocles's Elektra and Tom Stoppard's The Real Thing were all productions at Donmar. Mendes' successor Michael Grandage directed some of the key productions of the later part of Mendes' tenure, including Peter Nichols's Passion Play and Privates on Parade and Sondheim's Merrily We Roll Along.
For its revivals of foreign plays, the company regularly commissioned new translations or versions, including Ibsen's The Wild Duck (David Eldridge), Racine's Phaedra (Frank McGuinness), Dario Fo's Accidental Death of An Anarchist (Simon Nye) and Strindberg's Creditors (David Greig).
Its musical productions included Grand Hotel and the Stephen Sondheim works, Pacific Overtures, Merrily We Roll Along, Company, Into the Woods and the 1992 production of Assassins that opened Sam Mendes' tenure as Artistic Director.
With only 250 seats, the tickets for Othello starring McGregor were in such demand that Grandage feared it could become "a bad news story". His response was to plan a one-year season at the 750-seat Wyndham's Theatre, four major new productions presented by Donmar West End. It commenced on 12 September 2008, with Kenneth Branagh in the title role of Chekhov's Ivanov, given in a new version by Tom Stoppard and directed by Grandage. The West End season continued with Derek Jacobi in Twelfth Night, Judi Dench in Yukio Mishima's Madame de Sade and Jude Law in Hamlet, all directed by Grandage.
Following the Donmar West End season, the Donmar held three productions internationally: transfers of Red, Piaf and Creditors, to Broadway, Madrid and the Brooklyn Academy of Music respectively. Furthermore, from 30 September through December, the Donmar had the first of three year resident spots at Trafalgar Studios 2, in order to showcase its past Resident Assistant Directors.
In late 2010, the Donmar led the UK celebrations to mark Stephen Sondheim's 80th birthday to recognise his long association with the theatre. It included a new production of Passion directed by Jamie Lloyd.
In February 2011, the Donmar collaborated with the National Theatre Live programme to broadcast its production of King Lear, starring Derek Jacobi, to cinemas around the world. With over 350 screens in 20 countries, this single performance of King Lear was seen by more than 30,000 people.
In January 2012, Josie Rourke became the third Artistic Director in the Donmar's history. The first production under her leadership was George Farquhar's The Recruiting Officer, which Rourke also directed. Her first season also included Robert Holman's 1987 play, Making Noise Quietly, directed by Peter Gill; Jack Thorne's new version of The Physicists by Swiss playwright Friedrich Duerrenmatt; Brian Friel's Philadelphia, Here I Come!, directed by Lyndsey Turner; and Rourke's own production of Jean Racine's Berenice, in a new translation by Alan Hollinghurst and Phyllida Lloyd's all female Julius Caesar, which later went on to play at the St. Ann's Warehouse, New York.
The Donmar built a temporary, in-the-round, 420-seat theatre next to King's Cross station. This theatre housed the all-female Shakespeare trilogy: The Tempest, Julius Caesar and Henry IV, directed by Phyllida Lloyd, from September to December 2016.
In June 2018, Michael Longhurst was named the fourth Artistic Director of the Donmar Warehouse. Longhurst's previous credits include Constellations at the Royal Court Theatre and Amadeus at the National Theatre.
Longhurst's first season at the Donmar started on 20 June 2019 with David Greig’s Europe, followed by the UK premiere of Appropriate by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins. Further planned productions include [Blank] by Alice Birch, the UK premiere of Mike Lew's Teenage Dick and the season closes with Caryl Churchill's Far Away.
Donmar-generated productions have received 35 Olivier Awards, 23 Critics’ Circle Awards, 21 Evening Standard Awards, two South Bank Award and 20 Tony Awards from ten Broadway productions.