Originally a brewery vat room with hop storage and stabling underneath, the building was an 1870s extension of the Woodyard Brewery founded in 1740. The brewery closed in 1905. The spacious vat room, after briefly being used as a film studio, became a banana ripening warehouse.
Ian Albery, manager of the Donmar Hire and Sales company, acquired a lease of part of the old brewery building adjacent to the banana warehouse in 1960. Donmar provided technical and rehearsal services for theatres in the West End and the many shows produced by his father Donald Albery. The name Donmar was the amalgam of Donald Albery’s first name and his wife’s second name, Margaret.
Donmar had many new shows scheduled to rehearse in 1961 including the major musical Blitz! that needed full scale scenery to be constructed for rehearsals. Ian Albery heard a rumour that the adjacent banana warehouse was closing and secured the remaining 18 months lease of the banana warehouse in the old brewery vat room.
Within weeks the Donmar Rehearsal Theatre opened. The Rehearsal Theatre was used for over 15 years by many West End producers – with a few private performances to escape censorship. Companies included the RSC, London Festival Ballet and the Beatles. In 1977 it was converted to the Donmar Warehouse Theatre by Donmar and RSC.
When RSC moved to the Barbican in 1982 Ian Albery and Nica Burns ran it with considerable success as a (mainly) producing theatre. It was reconstructed and expanded on much improved lines as part of the commercial development of the adjoining Neal’s Yard in 1992.
A fringe theatre, physically, the theatre forms part of a nineteenth century warehouse building externally constructed from London stock brick with metal framed windows. The auditorium is at upper level, approached by stairs and seating on padded benches is at two levels on three sides of the simple thrust stage which provides ample acting area. There is a grid with six hemp sets but wing space is extremely limited.
The Donmar has a special theatrical quality and the audience enjoy sightlines and comfort which are good. Bars are sited on both levels. The theatre has achieved an international reputation from its outstanding productions and casts, despite a lack of high visibility signage to give it a street presence.
- 1977 : continuing
- 1985 : Late Night Music and Dancing Licence for cabaret after play performances granted
- 1870 - 1879 Design/Construction: as a brewery vat room and hop warehouseUnknown- Architect
- 1961 Alteration: converted to rehearsal theatreIan Albery- Consultant
- 1977 Alteration: converted to Donmar Warehouse Theatre
- 1977 Use: continuing
- 1977 Owner/Management: Joint RSC / Ian Albery
- 1981 Owner/Management: RSC gives notice to move to Barbican
- 1982 Alteration: Additional seating and facilitiesIan Albery- Consultant
- 1985 Use: Late Night Music and Dancing Licence for cabaret after play performances granted
- 1985 Alteration: new food service facilities and new street display signageIan Albery- Consultant
- 1992 Alteration: new front of house and reordering of auditoriumRHWL- Architect
- 2013 Design/Construction: C19th warehouse on Dryden Street converted to office, education and rehearsal spaceHaworth Tompkins- Architect
- CapacityCurrentDescription251 (+20 standing)