Good Venue Guide 31: Donmar Warehouse, WC2
Sunday 03 May 1998
Brief history: bananas. Harking back to the time when Covent Garden was famed not for its bars and boutiques but its fruit and veg, the warehouse made a living as a banana-ripening factory. It remained part of the market until the 1970s when the partnership of Donald Albery and Dame Margot Fonteyn secured the venue and converted it into a studio/performance space. Under Donald and Margot the 'Don-Mar' was born. The RSC held court there from 1977 to 1981, when Ian Albery (Donald's nephew) and Nico Burns took it over. They staged productions by some of Britain's most innovative touring companies, including the Druid Theatre Co and Cheek by Jowl. But lack of funds meant it was forced to close in 1989. It reopened in 1992 under the artistic directorship of Sam Mendes. It is the only studio theatre in central London generating productions with absolutely no public funding.
The building: a huge 19th-century warehouse. The recent redevelopment, by Renton, Howard, Wood & Levin, with a vertiginous mezzanine, 254-seat auditorium, reached by free-standing, winding metal staircases, has retained the building's airy height.
Uses: intelligent, innovative productions with starry casts (Brenda Blethyn, Zoe Wanamaker and Jim Broadbent have all appeared there since Mendes arrived); new plays, musicals (Cabaret recently transferred to Broadway) and revivals.
Current events: A triple bill of one-act Pinter plays, A Kind of Alaska with The Lover and The Collection, Thurs to 13 Jun, tickets pounds 10-25. All bookings on 0171 369 1732.
Recommended seats: centre stalls for view, top of circle for economy.
Getting there: Covent Garden tube, then a walk down Neal Street.
Where to meet: there's a bar in the stalls and another in the circle.
Cost of a glass of wine: pounds 2.
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