Taking a break doesn’t come naturally to Michael Grandage. His decade-long run as artistic director of the Donmar Warehouse came to an end less than a year ago, but his latest big adventure is already set to begin. ‘The idea that I’d leave the Donmar and cruise for a bit would have been such a waste,’ he tells me, between mouthfuls of soup and crusty bread. Not even lunchtime can stop him.
He is chatting to me during a break in rehearsals for Privates on Parade, the first show in a debut West End season for his new venture, the Michael Grandage Company. Four more productions will follow, all at the Noël Coward Theatre, and Grandage will direct each one. Did he not fancy a long holiday after finishing at the Donmar? The thought never entered his head, apparently.
‘I’ve just hit 50 and my mother told me that your fifties are a very productive period,’ he says. ‘I’ve chosen a job that isn’t really work, and, although I have to work incredibly hard, I love what I do and I’m never thinking when’s Friday coming or about booking the next holiday.’
He says he started planning for life after the Donmar almost as soon as he handed in his notice towards the end of 2010. He and his former colleague at the Covent Garden venue, James Bierman, wanted to start their own roving production company, free from the constraints of working in one building and one medium. The season in the West End is just the beginning, with films, more theatre and possibly television programmes to follow.
Grandage is great company, warm and enthusiastic, and, even though he’s named his company after himself, he doesn’t seem the least bit vain. The decision to call it the Michael Grandage Company, in fact, makes perfect sense when you bear in mind he developed a brand all of his own during his Donmar decade as a superb selector and interpreter of plays (Guys and Dolls, Frost/Nixon and Anna Christie being just a few of the highlights), who also had a knack for persuading huge stars, such as Derek Jacobi and Judi Dench, to appear in them.