Tom Hiddleston heads new Donmar Warehouse season as Hollywood stars make way for British talent

The new season promises to "shed light on contemporary Britain"

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The Independent Culture

Hollywood imports are no longer required to make a buzz on the West End stage, the head of the Donmar Warehouse said, after unveiling a new Autumn season starring Tom Hiddleston and Jessica Raine.

The 250-seat Covent Garden theatre, which once lured Nicole Kidman and Gwyneth Paltrow to its boards, is to tell stories which shed light on contemporary Britain, featuring the best home-grown acting talent, Josie Rourke, the artistic director said.

Hiddleston, the  London-born Thor star, will return to the Donmar for the first time since 2008 to play the lead in a modern-day interpretation of Coriolanus, Shakespeare’s tragedy, which Rourke will direct herself. Mark Gatiss, the Sherlock actor, plays Menenius.

Ms Rourke said today’s debates over Europe and gay marriage would find resonance within the production: “Everyone seems to be debating democracy and asking ‘whose voice carries? What is it to represent the people?’ ”

Hiddleston said: “The fate of Coriolanus dramatizes the conflict in the heart of every public figure: the war between integrity and popularity. It’s a play about soldiers, politicians and the people. It’s a play for our time; for any time.”

The Donmar will stage the world premiere of the next production by Nick Payne, who won the Evening Standard play of the year award for Constellations.

The Same Deep Water As Me, starring Monica Dolan and Daniel Mays, is set in the world of compensation-chasing personal injury lawyers in Luton.

“It’s a play about the world we live in right now, about ‘cash-for-crash’ lawyers, insurance fraud and the death of the high street,” Ms Rourke said. “It’s about contemporary Britain and a departure from the work we normally see here. It asks how acceptable it is to pursue a lie for personal gain.”

The third new production in the Autumn season is a revival of Roots, the centrepiece of Arnold Wesker’s seminal post-war trilogy, starring Jessica Raine, who found television fame as the lead in the BBC1 series Call The Midwife. “The theme of young people trying to find their place in the world runs through each of the three plays,” Ms Rourke said.

A plea by West Wing star Rob Lowe to appear at a future Donmar production has yet to be answered. Asked if a new generation of British acting talent meant the Donmar no longer needed to lure Hollywood stars, Ms Rourke said: “Definitely. Tom Hiddleston is completely passionate about maintaining a career in the theatre. He’s first and foremost a great classical actor. Jessica Raine could do endless film and television. They have a strong sense of the importance of doing stage work.”

Ms Rourke, 36, who took over the Donmar last year and is tipped as a contender to succeed Nicholas Hytner at the National Theatre, added: “This year, the Donmar is a champion of British and Irish theatre. When work on our stage asks what it is to be human right now – that’s dynamite.”

Alastair Coomer, the Donmar’s casting director, described Mays, Raine and Hiddleston as the nation’s “leading young actors”. He said: “It’s very exciting that we’ve got them because they’re stars who began their career in the theatre.”

In The Same Deep Water As Me, Mays plays a lawyer, who was partly inspired by Rourke’s own brother. She said: “Nick Payne met my brother, who prosecutes minor fraudulent insurance claims – we call him the Eliot Ness of whiplash. He went to a trial with my brother and from that came the seeds of an idea about insurance fraud and the nature of lying. The play is also extremely funny.”

The Donmar, which will continue to make £10 tickets available every Monday, is expanding to New York. The theatre’s all-female production of Julius Caesar will make its US premiere in Brooklyn in October.

The Machine, Matt Charman’s play about Garry Kasparov’s 1997 chess battle against the IBM Deep Blue computer, will premiere at the Manchester International Festival in July and transfer to New York in September.

Public booking for the three Autumn plays opens on 25 June 2013. Coriolanus will be broadcast to cinemas around the world on 30 January 2014 as part of NT Live.