|Donmar Warehouse, July 2007|
41 Earlham Street
|Owned by||Leased to trust
(Ambassador Theatre Group)
It was acquired as a theatre by the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1977, renamed the Warehouse, then converted and equipped at "immense speed". The first show was a transfer of Schweyk in the Second World War, Directed by Howard Davies, transferred from the Other Place in Stratford and opening on 18 July 1977 — the electricity for the theatre was turned on just 30 minutes before curtain up and the concrete steps up to the theatre still wet (Sally Beauman, ibid).
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.
The Donmar became an independent producing house in 1992 with Sam Mendes as artistic director. Mendes quickly transformed the theatre into one of the most exciting venues in the city. His opening production was Stephen Sondheim's Assassins which revelled in the show's dark, comic brilliance and rescued it from the critical opprobrium it had suffered on its American opening. He followed this with a series of excellent classic revivals, many of which attracted some of the finest actors and biggest stars of the decade.
Among Mendes's 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.
As artistic director Mendes gave opportunities to many young directors. 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 amongst the most critically acclaimed of the decade. And the Donmar's present artistic director Michael Grandage directed some of the key productions of the later part of Mendes's tenure, including Peter Nichols's Passion and Privates on Parade and Sondheim's Merrily We Roll Along.
The Donmar Warehouse produces a mixed programme of new plays, revivals and musicals. For its revivals of foreign plays the company regularly commissions 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 have 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.
Since 1992, Donmar original productions have received 27 Olivier Awards, 17 Critics' Circle Theatre Awards, 9 Evening Standard Awards, as well as 12 Tony Awards from eight productions transferring to Broadway.