Donmar Warehouse artistic director Michael Grandage has signalled his desire to give the theatre “long-term security” by purchasing its Covent Garden base and announcing a year-long residency at the West End’s Wyndham’s Theatre that will see Kenneth Branagh star in Chekhov’s Ivanov and direct Jude Law as Hamlet.
The Donmar is also set to continue its national touring programme by taking a new production of Arthur Miller’s rarely-seen 1944 play The Man Who Had All the Luck to Salford’s Lowry Theatre and Truro’s Hall for Cornwall, while Grandage’s hit Donmar West End production of Guys and Dolls will be staged in Australia, where it is scheduled to open at Melbourne’s Princess Theatre next March, but Broadway plans for the production that were well advanced are now on hold, as the impending writers’ strike scheduled for next summer in Hollywood has meant that actors are being urged to keep their slates clear for film work before it happens.
Speaking at a press conference, Grandage pointed out that the Donmar hitherto didn’t own anything – it rents the theatre, its offices and rehearsal rooms, but has now secured a deal to take over a 125-year lease on the building once the current lease owned by their landlord Ambassador Theatre Group expires in nine years’ time.
The theatre is drawing off a reserve fund that had been established with a view towards being able to make a capital purchase of its own, and is forming the basis for a fundraising campaign to complete future capital plans. “This is a major step for us that will certainly allow us all to look to the future with real confidence,” Grandage commented.
Part of that future is also his desire to expand the company’s commitment to take its work to a wider public beyond the Donmar itself. Although there have also been West End transfers for Donmar-originated productions such as Mary Stuart, A Voyage Round My Father and Grandage’s own production of Frost/Nixon (which also went to Broadway) during his regime, a new initiative called Donmar West End will see the Donmar launch a four-play residency at Wyndham’s Theatre.
It will kick off with Branagh reuniting with Grandage (who previously directed him in the title role of Richard III at Shefield Crucible) to revive Chekhov’s Ivanov, beginning performances at Wyndham’s from September 12 prior to an official opening on September 18. Tom Stoppard has been commissioned to provide a new version of Chekhov’s first play.
Grandage will also be reunited with Derek Jacobi, whom he previously directed in both The Tempest and Don Carlos (at Sheffield Crucible and subsequently at London’s Old Vic and Gielgud respectively), on a new production of Twelfth Night, beginning performances on December 5, 2008 prior to an official opening on December 10, in which Jacobi will play Malvolio. Grandage is also to direct Yukio Mishima’s Madame de Sade, running from March 13, 2008 prior to an official opening on March 18, before Kenneth Branagh directs Jude Law as Hamlet, running from May 29, with the official opening on June 3.
The Wyndham’s season will continue the Donmar’s ethos in the West End, with prices pegged at Donmar rates, matching the top price of £32.50 and more than 130 tickets per performance being available at the lowest price of £10.
The season will be produced under the “favoured nations” Donmar policy,with no hierarchical billing of actors or participation in a royalty pool, though the base salaries are expected to be higher than they are at the Donmar. Theatre owners Delfont Mackintosh have also made concessions on the rental agreement that the theatre is being hired out on. “We want to expand our commitment to taking our work to as wide a public as possible, running in the West End at Donmar prices and bringing serious drama to the centre of the West End,” Grandage added.
A full production slate will also continue at the Donmar’s Covent Garden home base. The Jason Robert Brown musical Parade begins this week on September 14 (official opening on September 24), and the already announced Christmas production of Othello, starring Chiwetel Ejiofor in the title role and Ewan McGregor as Iago, begins on November 29, with the official opening on December 4. Forthcoming productions include Miller’s The Man Who Had All the Luck, starring rising actor Andrew Buchan in Sean Holmes’ production, from February 28, Strindberg’s Creditors in a new version by David Grieg, Pedro Calderon de la Barca’s Life is a Dream and TS Eliot’s The Family Reunion. Directors are yet to be attached to these projects.
The Donmar is also expanding its education and access work programme, with a new member of staff to be appointed alongside associate director Douglas Hodge to develop schemes that include the current student rep programme that promotes the work of the Donmar to university students with £5 tickets available for each production, and the Creating a Scene project that offers students in London schools and further education colleges the opportunity to create their own piece of original theatre, using Donmar productions as their inspiration.
Grandage himself, who under the terms of his contract is free to accept freelance projects alongside his Donmar work, stated: “I have no wish to do that while I commit myself fully to taking the Donmar to the next stage.”