As his first five years at the Donmar Warehouse comes to a close, artistic director Michael Grandage has announced, at a press briefing held in London today, his plans to secure the theatre’s long-term future, including the purchase of its Covent Garden base and the launch of a year-long West End residency at Wyndham’s Theatre where Kenneth Branagh, Jude Law (pictured) and Derek Jacobi will be amongst those heading the bill.

Donmar West End

The “Donmar West End” season will run from September 2008 to August 2009. It launches with Grandage’s new production of Chekhov’s first play, 1887’s Ivanov, in a new version by Tom Stoppard. Kenneth Branagh – who has previously been directed by Grandage in Richard III at Sheffield Crucible, where Grandage was previously in charge, and who won the Best Actor Award for his last London stage appearance, David Mamet’s Edmond at the National in 2003 – will take the title role.

Branagh was previously due to appear in Ivanov at the Bristol Old Vic this autumn, but when those plans evaporated following the regional theatre’s decision to close, he brought the project to the Donmar. Grandage’s production will run from 17 September (previews from 12 September) to 29 November 2008.

It will be followed by another Grandage production, of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, from 10 December 2008 (previews from 5 December) to 7 March 2009. Derek Jacobi - who appeared in the Donmar revival of John Mortimer’s A Voyage Round My Father, which transferred to Wyndham’s in 2006 – will play Malvolio. Jacobi has also appeared in Grandage’s productions of Don Carlos and The Tempest, both originated at Sheffield and transferred to the West End.

Grandage will also direct the third piece in the West End season, Yukio Mishima’s 1965 Japanese play Madame de Sade, translated by Donald Keene and running from 18 March (previews from 13 March) to 23 May 2009. The rarely seen drama centres on five women affected by the debauchery of the Marquis de Sade, including his wife and mother. No casting has yet been announced.

The Wyndham’s programme culminates with Kenneth Branagh, who has been named an artistic associate for Donmar West End, taking over directing duties for a Hamlet in which British screen star Jude Law (pictured) will take the title role. Law has had a long association with the Young Vic and its artistic director David Lan, who has directed the actor in his last two stage outings, Doctor Faustus in 2002 and ’Tis Pity She’s a Whore in 1999. He’d previously discussed plans to tackle the prince of Denmark at the Young Vic. Instead, his Hamlet will run at Wyndham’s care of the Donmar from 3 June (29 May) to 22 August 2009.

The launch of Donmar West End will coincide with the reopening of Wyndham’s following the final phase in the theatre’s extensive refurbishment by owner Cameron Mackintosh.

Site Ownership & Finances

Fulfilling one of his initial goals when taking over the Donmar Warehouse, Grandage has successfully purchased the theatre’s site on Earlham Street in Covent Garden on a 125-year lease. He described the purchase today as the “most significant development” in the theatre’s history and an “extraordinary step in securing the long-term of the Donmar Warehouse”. The theatre has never owned any property, be it the venue itself, its administrative offices or rehearsals rooms.

The financial arrangements of the purchase have not yet been disclosed, but the deal was completed on Friday care of a reserve fund that Grandage put in place when he took over. This will now form the springboard for a major fundraising campaign to secure the remainder of the money necessary. The theatre building is currently run by the Ambassador Theatre Group. The Donmar will take over sole possession in nine years when ATG’s lease expires.

The Donmar requires £3 million per annum for its Covent Garden programming alone, only £500,000 of which is covered by its annual Arts Council grant. Grandage has not yet finalised the budget for the new West End season but confirmed that he will need to work with “philanthropic” co-producers to make it possible.

He anticipates that the West End residency will not be profitable as a key reason for undertaking it is to make Donmar calibre drama more widely accessible, and that means sticking to the same ticket prices at the 750-seat Wyndham’s as at the Donmar’s 250-seat Earlham Street base, where productions frequently sell out. Therefore, the top price will be just £32.50 (as opposed to around the £50 mark for most commercial West End plays), with 150 seats available every night for just £10.

Back in Covent Garden

Meanwhile, following the previously announced UK premiere of Broadway musical Parade and Grandage’s Christmas production of Othello led by Chiwetel Ejiofor, Ewan McGregor and Kelly Reilly (See News, 11 May 2007), the Donmar’s season at its Covent Garden home will continue in the new year with Arthur Miller’s Broadway debut play, 1944’s The Man Who Had All the Luck (See The Goss, 31 Aug 2007).

Andrew Buchan (from TV’s Party Animals) will star in a production directed by Sean Holmes. Buchan plays the title character David Reeves, a car mechanic blessed with almost supernatural good fortune. Closed on Broadway after only four performances, the play remained one of Miller’s least-known works for decades, until it was revived on Broadway, with much more success, in 2002.

At the Donmar, The Man Who Had All the Luck will run from 28 February to 5 April 2008 and will then tour The Lowry in Salford and Hull for Cornwall in Truro.

Though exact dates have yet to be confirmed, the Donmar season will then continue with: Strindberg’s rarely seen 1890 comic tale of obsession Creditors, in a new translation by David Grieg; Pedro Calderon de la Barca’s 17th-century masterpiece Life Is a Dream; and TS Eliot’s rarely seen 1939 play The Family Reunion.

Grandage’s Commitment

Michael Grandage also confirmed today that he will be staying on at the Donmar and will be cutting back on his freelance commitments over a minimum of the next two years. “In the immediate future,” he said today, “I want to commit massively to taking the Donmar into its next stage of development.”

He added in a statement giving an overview of today’s announcements: "Our future plans will consolidate our wish to put the European repertoire at the heart of our output, and we are presenting ever more challenging and exciting plays in 2008. We will also continue to feature work from America with an early play by Arthur Miller alongside an important British play from the 20th century. It is, without question, one of our most exciting seasons to date.

“In addition to our work in Covent Garden, we will expand the company's commitment to take our work to a wider public by running four plays in a West End theatre at Donmar prices. The two venues will work together to complement and enhance the Donmar's output and reputation and bring serious drama to the heart of London's West End …

“We have secured the long-term future of our Covent Garden Company with the purchase of the Donmar Warehouse. This is a major step for us that will certainly allow us all to look to the future with real confidence. I want the Donmar to stay at the forefront of the international theatre scene, and I am confident that all our future plans that we are announcing today will help us achieve that aim."

- by Terri Paddock