Theatrical producer Donald Albery formed Donmar Productions around 1953, with the name derived from the first three letters of his name and the first three letters of his wife's middle name, Margaret.[In 1961, he bought the warehouse, a building that in the 1870s had been a vat room and hopswarehouse for the local brewery in Covent Garden, and in the 1920s had been used as a film studio and then the Covent Garden Market banana-ripening depot. His son Ian Albery, a producer and theatre design consultant, converted the warehouse into a private rehearsal studio.
In 1977, the Royal Shakespeare Company acquired it as a theatre and renamed it the Warehouse, converting and equipping at "immense speed". The first show, which opened on 18 July 1977, was Schweik in the Second World War, directed by Howard Davies, which transferred from the Other Placein Stratford. The electricity for the theatre was turned on just 30 minutes before curtain up, and the concrete steps up to the theatre were still wet.
The Warehouse was an RSC workshop as much as a showcase and the seasons were remarkably innovative, including Trevor Nunn's acclaimed Stratford 1976 Macbeth, starring Judi Dench and Ian McKellen, which opened at the Covent Garden venue in September 1977 before transferring to the Young Vic. The RSC went on to stage numerous acclaimed productions, both original and transfers from The Other Place, Stratford. In 1980 nearly all the RSC company were involved in Nicholas Nickleby so a new two hander was found from the pile of submitted scripts. Educating Rita, with Julie Walters and Mark Kingston directed by Mike Ockrent, went on to be one of the RSC's biggest successes.
From 1983-89 it came under the artistic directorship of Nica Burns.
In 1990, Roger Wingate was responsible for the acquisition of the Donmar Warehouse. He completely rebuilt and re-equipped it in the form it is known today. Prior to its reopening in 1992, Roger Wingate appointed Sam Mendes as the theatre’s first Artistic Director. As a board member and theatrical producer, Roger Wingate remains closely involved with the Donmar to the present day.
Under Sam Mendes (1992-2002)
The Donmar became an independent producing house in 1992 with Sam Mendes as artistic director. His opening production was Stephen Sondheim's Assassins. He followed this with a series of classic revivals.
Among Mendes' productions were John Kander and Fred Ebb's Cabaret, Tennessee Williams's The Glass Menagerie, Stephen Sondheim's Company, Alan Bennett's Habeas Corpus and his farewell duo of Chekhov's Uncle Vanyaand Twelfth Night, which transferred to the Brooklyn Academy of Music.
Under Mendes, Matthew Warchus's production of Sam Shepard's True West, Katie Mitchell's of Beckett's Endgame, David Leveaux's of Sophocles's Elektraand Tom Stoppard's The Real Thing were all productions at Donmar. Mendes' successor Michael Grandage directed some of the key productions of the later part of Mendes' tenure, including Peter Nichols's Passion Play and Privates on Parade and Sondheim's Merrily We Roll Along.
Under Michael Grandage (2002-2011)
In 2002 Michael Grandage succeeded Sam Mendes as Artistic Director. Grandage appointed Douglas Hodge and Jamie Lloyd as Associate Directors; in 2007 Rob Ashford succeeded Hodge.
For its revivals of foreign plays, the company regularly commissioned new translations or versions, including Ibsen's The Wild Duck (David Eldridge), Racine's Phaedra (Frank McGuinness), Dario Fo's Accidental Death of An Anarchist (Simon Nye) and Strindberg's Creditors (David Greig).
Its musical productions included Grand Hotel and the Stephen Sondheimworks, Pacific Overtures, Merrily We Roll Along, Company, Into the Woods and the 1992 production of Assassins that opened Sam Mendes' tenure as Artistic Director.
Under the umbrella of Warehouse Productions, the theatre sometimes opened shows in the West End including 1999's Suddenly Last Summer and 2005's Guys and Dolls.
Many well-known actors have appeared at the theatre, including Nicole Kidman(The Blue Room), Gwyneth Paltrow (Proof), Ian McKellen (The Cut) and Ewan McGregor (Othello).
With only 250 seats, the tickets for Othello starring McGregor were in such demand that Grandage feared it could become "a bad news story". His response was to plan a one-year season at the 750-seat Wyndham's Theatre, four major new productions presented by Donmar West End. It commenced on 12 September 2008, with Kenneth Branagh in the title role of Chekhov's Ivanov, given in a new version by Tom Stoppard and directed by Grandage. The West End season continued with Derek Jacobi in Twelfth Night, Judi Denchin Yukio Mishima's Madame de Sade and Jude Law in Hamlet, all directed by Grandage.
Following the Donmar West End season, the Donmar held three productions internationally: transfers of Red, Piaf and Creditors, to Broadway, Madrid and the Brooklyn Academy of Music respectively. Furthermore, from the 30th of September through December, the Donmar had the first of three year resident spots at Trafalgar Studios 2, in order to showcase its past Resident Assistant Directors.
In late 2010, the Donmar led the UK celebrations to mark Stephen Sondheim's 80th birthday to recognise his long association with the theatre. It included a new production of Passion directed by Jamie Lloyd.
In February 2011, the Donmar collaborated with the National Theatre Liveprogramme to broadcast its production of King Lear, starring Derek Jacobi, to cinemas around the world. With over 350 screens in 20 countries, this single performance of King Lear was seen by more than 30,000 people.
Under Josie Rourke (2012-present)
In January 2012, Josie Rourke became the third Artistic Director in the Donmar's history. The first production under her leadership was George Farquhar's The Recruiting Officer, which Rourke also directed. Her first season also included Robert Holman's 1987 play, Making Noise Quietly, directed by Peter Gill; Jack Thorne's new version of The Physicists by Swiss playwright Friedrich Duerrenmatt; Brian Friel's Philadelphia, Here I Come!, directed by Lyndsey Turner; and Rourke's own production of Jean Racine's Berenice, in a new translation by Alan Hollinghurst.
The Donmar has built a temporary, in-the-round, 420-seat theatre next to King's Cross station. The theatre is intended for an all-female Shakespeare trilogy, directed by Phyllida Lloyd, from September to December 2016.