The Bush theatre’s Josie Rourke has been appointed the new Artistic Director of the Donmar Warehouse, succeeding Michael Grandage.
Rourke, who has been Artistic Director at West London’s Bush theatre since 2007, will take over the reins at the acclaimed Covent Garden venue on 1 January 2012 following the departure of outgoing Artistic Director Grandage, who last October announced his intention to step down at the end of this year after 10 years in the post.
Rourke is no stranger to the Donmar. In 2000, at the beginning of her career, she spent a year on its Resident Assistant Director scheme, assisting then-Artistic Director Sam Mendes as well as Grandage, Nicholas Hytner and Phyllida Lloyd on award-winning productions including Merrily We Roll Along and Boston Marriage. Since then she has returned to the venue to direct in her own right, notably a 2006 production of David Mamet’s The Cryptogram.
“Nothing could make me more proud than to return to the place where I began,” commented Rourke. “Both Michael Grandage and Sam Mendes have always been great friends and invaluable mentors and when I take over as the Donmar’s Artistic Director I will inherit their legacy of 20 years of wonderful productions, extraordinary performances and great nights out at the theatre.”
Before joining the Bush theatre Rourke spent five years as a freelance director working for the Royal Court, Royal Shakespeare Company and Sheffield theatres, where she was Associate Director.
During her four years at the Bush theatre she has maintained the tiny Shepherd’s Bush venue’s reputation as a premier new writing theatre, despite the challenging conditions of the theatre’s home above an O’Neill’s pub. In 2008 Rourke showed her ingenuity in the face of adversity by staging a season of work in darkness after a series of leaks left the venue without the use of its lights.
Under Rourke’s tenure the Bush has welcomed many big names to its stage, including Joseph Fiennes, Rafe Spall and Ralf Little, and showcased the work of young new playwriting talents such as Lucy Kirkwood, Anthony Weigh, Nick Payne and Alexi Kaye Campbell.
In 2008 she successfully campaigned against a proposed 40% cut in funding to the Bush theatre, becoming a figurehead for the fight against arts funding cuts in the process.
Rourke’s star has continued to rise and she made her National Theatre directorial debut last year with a well-received production of Men Should Weep. This May she will direct David Tennant and Catherine Tate in Much Ado About Nothing at the West End’s Wyndham’s theatre.
Her final act before leaving the Bush theatre will be to oversee its move to a new, permanent home at the Old Library on Uxbridge Road this October, thus securing the venue’s future.
In taking on the post at the Donmar, Rourke has big shoes to fill. Under Grandage’s tenure as Artistic Director the venue has become one of the most prestigious and respected in London, attracting the cream of the UK’s acting crop – including Jude Law, Derek Jacobi, Rachel Weisz, Dominic West, Michael Sheen, Alfred Molina and Chiwetel Ejiofor – and winning more than 80 awards. Its productions have transferred to the West End, Broadway and toured both at home and internationally.
Grandage commented: “Josie has been a wonderful colleague for many years and I think the Board have made an inspired appointment. She has been part of the Donmar’s evolution since her first production as a director and will bring continuity as well as a distinct style of her own. Her work at the Bush shows how she has transformed the theatre landscape in London, and the Donmar will now benefit from that energy and leadership. I wish her well as the organisation enters the next exciting stage of its development.”
The Donmar will be hoping its award-winning streak will continue at this Sunday’s Olivier Awards with Mastercard, in which its productions have received nine nominations, including a Best Director nomination for Grandage.
Theatre fans can find out if the Donmar triumphs on Sunday by watching the ceremony live on the BBC Red Button, listening to full coverage on BBC Radio 2 or following events via www.olivierawards.com.