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Sunday, September 25, 2022

New season at London’s Donmar to include ‘shocking’ play on climate crisis | Theatre

The Donmar Warehouse in London is to stage a “searing” dystopian play in which a teenage jury hold their elders to account for crimes against the climate. The Trials, written by British playwright Dawn King (Foxfinder), is set in a near future in which a radical green government is in power and must manage scarce resources.

The Donmar’s artistic director, Michael Longhurst, who has dubbed the courtroom drama “12 Angry Young People”, described it as a punchy, galvanising and “quite shocking” play which changed his perception of the world.

The cast of jurors is to be found as part of an engagement programme with local community organisations in London and will give a dozen new actors the opportunity to make their stage debut at the Donmar. Longhurst said he was committed to discovering the next generation of acting talent, in particular those “who don’t have the standard routes into the industry”.

The Trials, which was nominated for the Susan Smith Blackburn prize and is currently being staged in a different production at Düsseldorfer Schauspielhaus in Germany, will receive its UK premiere at the Donmar in August. In King’s play, a jury of 12– to 17-year-olds struggle with the responsibility of weighing up the fate of three adult defendants. That trio will be played by well-established theatre actors. The production, directed by Natalie Abrahami, will be hard-hitting yet hopeful, said Longhurst, and explore “what we can do practically” in an age of climate emergency.

Michael Longhurst, artistic director of the Donmar Warehouse.
‘Our USP is intimacy’ … Michael Longhurst, artistic director of the Donmar Warehouse. Photograph: David Jensen

The Donmar, which last year appointed Zoë Svendsen as its climate dramaturg, is like many theatres striving to reduce its carbon footprint. Recent renovations to the building, at a site once used as a brewery and banana-ripening warehouse in Covent Garden, has led to improved ventilation and environmental sustainability.

The Trials is part of a new Donmar season that includes, in June, the European premiere of A Doll’s House, Part 2 by American dramatist Lucas Hnath which is set 15 years after Ibsen’s classic. Longhurst said it was audacious of Hnath to propose: “Do you know what this revolutionary masterpiece needs? A sequel!” Ibsen’s play famously ends with Nora slamming the door on her marriage; Hnath’s followup, directed by James Macdonald, opens with a knock at the door. “It’s like a series of showdowns as Nora has to face the people in her family household that she left – and they are not necessarily happy to see her,” said Longhurst. “The play forces Nora to weigh the choices that she made.”

Nora will be played by Noma Dumezweni who starred as Hermione in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child in the West End and on Broadway. This marks Dumezweni’s first return to the London stage since that success, after recently working in television (including The Undoing) and film (she is in Disney’s new version of The Little Mermaid, slated for release next year). Dumezweni is also featured in a forthcoming photographic exhibition at the theatre, We. Black Women curated by Joan Iyiola, for which actors – including Sheila Atim and Naomie Harris – have interviewed their unsung heroes.

‘The play forces Nora to weigh the choices that she made’ … Noma Dumezweni as Nora in The Doll’s House, Part 2.
‘The play forces Nora to weigh the choices that she made’ … Noma Dumezweni as Nora in The Doll’s House, Part 2. Photograph: Helen Murray

The Band’s Visit, a “delicate and emotional” Israel-based musical adapted from the 2007 film of the same name, will also receive its European premiere at the Donmar this autumn. David Yazbek and Itamar Moses’ musical triumphed on Broadway where it won 10 Tony awards in 2018. Longhurst will direct the new production himself. “Our USP is intimacy,” he said of the 251-seat venue he has run since 2019, “and it’s so unusual to be so close to a musical.”

In September, the Donmar will collaborate with Tara theatre to stage Silence, adapted from Kavita Puri’s Partition Voices: Untold British Stories. The production will mark 75 years since the partition of India and draw on the testimonies of people who experienced life under the rule of the British Raj. Puri’s book has been adapted by four writers – Sonali Bhattacharyya, Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti, Ishy Din and Alexandra Wood – in order to tell what Longhurst called a “story of division with a collective act of storytelling”.

Abdul Shayek, artistic director of Tara theatre, added: “As Britain holds up a mirror to its colonial history that has shaped our present day reality, many of us are asking questions of our past and who we are.” Silence, said Shayek, “will try to capture the unbiased documentation of the stories in Kavita’s book and the very real need to recognise that this is our shared history, a British story regardless of the colour of your skin”. The production will run at both the Donmar and Tara theatre in Earlsfield, south-west London.

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