New Donmar artistic director Josie Rourke's end of first year report
A new year, a new artist director at one of my favourite theatre's but how has Josie Rourke done in her first 12 months?
Michael Grandage was a safe pair of hands, he had a certain style, a safe style, you pretty much knew what you were getting. With Rourke came the promise of something new, fresh and, perhaps, less safe.
Well she started by stamping her mark all over the auditorium. The wall behind the stalls was removed immediately giving a sense of space to the Donmar's auditorium and making the audience feel even more part of the action.
And there was a distinct feminine touch for the first production - The Recruiting Officer. Seats were covered in floral prints as was the circle balcony and the back of the stage was lit with dozens of candles. Extending the set or at least the theme of the play into the auditorium as been a common device most recently replacing the banquette seating with plastic, institution-style chairs for the prison-set Julius Caesar.
There has been a interesting choice of plays too although nothing you wouldn't expect to see at the Donmar. The afforementioned Recruiting Officer and Julius Caesar have been the bookend to Rourke's first year with Making Noise Quietly, The Physicists, Philadelphia, Here I Come and Berenice in between.
If pressed to pick a favourite it would have to be The Physicists just by a whisker over Julius Caesar and Philadelphia. Recruiting Officer had it's problems, Berenice had its moments but Making Noise Quietly was definitely a low point, just dull, dull, dull. It reminded me of Moonlight which was staged under Grandage's tenure last year and appeared in my least favourite plays of 2011 list.
My top 10 for 2012 is still being decided but I can safely say that Matthew Tennyson undressing in Making Noise Quietly isn't going to be winning any StOlivier awards (no offence to Matthew, of course, but there is very strong competition in that category).
However, enticing Stan-fav James McAvoy onto the Donmar's tiny stage for a rehearsed reading and by the same token treating us to his beautiful Scottish brogue is a strong contender for a highlight of the year.
The J-Mc aside, thinking back over the year other memorable Donmar moments or rather things that stick in my mind would be the sand and sandals in Berenice and its beautiful flying staircase. It was also in Berenice that the stage invaded the auditorium forcing the right hand block of stalls seats to be moved to the back of the stage (I'm sure that's a first for the Donmar). But nothing said invasion more than the murder of Julius Caesar for which an audience member was turfed out of their front row seat so that it could become the location for the brutal and noisy killing.
I would say that it's been a promising start albeit with a few faltering first steps. I'm going to give Josie Rourke a B because I don't think we've seen the best she has to offer just yet.