Kenneth Branagh, Jude Law and Derek Jacobi will join Donmar Warehouse a.d. Michael Grandage for a new venture, a year-long, four-play Donmar season at the West End’s 750-seat Wyndham’s Theater.
Commencing September 2008, the season will match the Donmar’s top ticket price of £32.50 (US$65.90) with 130 seats per performance at £10 (about US$20). This undercuts standard West End prices which average a £50 (approximately US$100) top for plays and £60 (about US$120) for tuners.
The plays, all four of which will be available in a subscription season — a rarity in London — will include Jude Law starring in “Hamlet” directed by Branagh from May 29-Aug. 22, 2009.
Branagh will also star in Grandage’s own production of Chekhov’s “Ivanov” in a new translation by Tom Stoppard which opens the season on Sept. 12, 2008. The other two plays, both helmed by Grandage, are Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” with Derek Jacobi as Malvolio (Dec. 5, 2008-March 7, 2009), and a rare staging of Yukio Mishima’s “Madame de Sade” (March 13-May 23, 2009). All further casting and creatives are yet to be announced.
Speaking at a press briefing to announce a five-year rewewal of his Donmar contract that commenced in 2002, Grandage argued that the company’s move into the West End was crucial to the Donmar’s development. “It’s an opportunity to expand our commitment to as wide as audience as possible.”
The “Donmar West End” season, made possible by a “a generous deal” from Cameron Mackintosh whose Delfont Mackintosh company owns the theater, will work on similar financial principles to those governing the 250-seat Covent Garden home base. Actors and creatives receive a company wage with no pay hierarchies. “There is little or no money to be made in this,” observed Grandage who is actively seeking a “philanthropic” co-producer.
In addition to this venture, the Donmar will continue its home season with a revival of Arthur Miller’s “The Man Who Had All The Luck” helmed by Sean Holmes and starring Andrew Buchan, both making their Donmar debuts. Future scheduled productions will include Strindberg’s “Creditors” in a new version by David Greig; the Spanish 17th century masterpiece “Life Is A Dream” by Pedro Calderon de la Barca; and “The Family Reunion” by T.S. Eliot.
Management costs for both the West End and home seasons remain low: the entire Donmar administration — including directorship team, production management, casting, press, marketing and development, numbers just 13 people. That keeps costs at the home venue at £3 million per annum (US$4.1 million), £500,000 (US$690,000) of which comes from a government grant from Arts Council England. The theater, meanwhile, has just secured its future with its recently completed purchase of its home building on a 125-year lease.