Following the Royal Shakespeare Company’s all black Africa-set Julius Caesar, Phyllida Lloyd will direct an all female production at the Donmar Warehouse this autumn.
The political drama leads a season that also features the theatre debut of Atonement and Anna Karenina director Joe Wright, when he brings Trelawny Of The Wells to the stage, and Rourke’s own return to a play that helped spark her passion for theatre, Conor McPherson’s The Weir.
Julius Caesar, which opens the first season created solely by Josie Rourke and Kate Pakenham since the pair took over as Artistic Director and Executive Producer at the venue in January, will reunite Lloyd with actress Harriet Walter seven years after they worked together at the Donmar on the acclaimed production of Mary Stuart.
“I hope it’s going to provoke a lot of excitement, a lot of discussion and be a great event,” Rourke said of the all female show, talking to Official London Theatre this morning before the announcement. The project, which will also feature actresses Frances Barber and Jenny Jules, and runs from 29 November to 9 February, was conceived as Rourke and Pakenham tried to tempt The Iron Lady and Mamma Mia! director Lloyd back to the London stage.
The coup of bringing leading British screen director Wright to the Donmar has been achieved with a show whose story isn’t entirely dissimilar to his own life. Arthur Wing Pinero’s play, which runs from 15 February to 13 April, is the tale of Rose, the brightest star of a theatre company that raised her since birth and her love affair with a stage door suitor. Though stage door lovers might not be part of Wright’s history, the Pride And Prejudice director did grow up at Islington’s Little Angel theatre, which was founded by his parents.
Rourke closes the season by directing McPherson’s Olivier Award-winning chilling tale of stories being told in a pub (18 April to 8 June). The Weir, which also won Evening Standard and Critics’ Circle Awards for Best New Play when it premiered in 1997, had a key role in spurring Rourke on to pursue a career in theatre. “It was transformative,” she said of watching that original production.
“I think Julius Caesar and Trelawny will be explosions of energy,” she continued, “the idea that we bring it right down to something that’s about stories is a bit of a thrill.”
In addition to the exciting new season of shows, the Donmar has also announced a new ticketing initiative, Barclays Front Row, which will see two thirds of the venue’s front row seats held back from general sale then released every Monday for the week of performances two weeks later. The tickets will cost £10 and will be sold without a booking fee, regardless of whether they are booked online, by phone or in person.
The scheme grew out of a misconception about the 250-seat venue that Rourke swiftly became aware of when she took over as Artistic Director. “One of the things that struck me when we started this job was the number of people who said to us ‘I love the Donmar, but you can’t get in.’ The truth is you can get in. We occasionally have shows that sell out, but tickets are available. We wanted to do something that in people’s imaginations turned the sign on the front door from closed around to open.”
Rich Ricci, Chief Executive of Corporate and Investment Banking at Barclays, which is also principal sponsor for the venue, added “We are delighted to support the Donmar’s initiative, Barclays Front Row. By making front row tickets available at just £10 we will make this wonderful theatre more accessible to, and inspire, new audiences. Barclays has a long tradition of supporting and contributing to the communities in which we operate, so this partnership is an important part of that.”
Before the new Donmar Warehouse season opens in November, there are still two productions of the current season to be enjoyed. Current production, Brian Friel’s Philadelphia, Here I Come! runs until 22 September, when it is followed by Bérénice, which stars Parade’s End’s Anne-Marie Duff.