Deborah Warner

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Deborah Warner
Deborah Warner .jpg
Born (1959-05-12) 12 May 1959 (age 58)
Oxfordshire, England
Occupation Theatre director
Years active 1980–present

Deborah Warner CBE (born 12 May 1959) is a British director of theatre and opera known for her interpretations of the works of Shakespeare, Bertolt Brecht, Georg Büchner, and Henrik Ibsen.

Early life[edit]

Warner was born in Oxfordshire, England, to antiquarians Roger Harold Metford Warner and Ruth Ernestine Hurcombe.[1] After attending Sidcot School and St Clare's, Oxford, she studied Stage Management at Central School of Speech and Drama.[2] In 1980 she founded the KICK theatre company when she was 21.[3]


Deborah Warner's ENO production of Handel's Messiah (London Coliseum, 2009)

Over four decades, Deborah Warner has constantly extended theatrical boundaries and redefined the vocabulary of performance through an oeuvre of rare consistency and integrity marked by its raw energy, sharp wit and moral complexity.

Most notably, she has since the 1980s worked in close creative partnership with the actor Fiona Shaw, developing a wide range of projects that have been seen and praised throughout Europe and the USA. The Sunday Times critic John Peter wrote of their vision of Richard II that ‘Warner and Shaw are not being either fashionable or reactionary … They are making theatre that is an adventure, a journey of the mind, a discovery of other ages, other countries, other people, other minds'. [4]Warner has also enjoyed long-term collaborations with the designers Jean Kalman, Hildegard Bechtler, Chloe Obolensky, Tom Pye, and Mel Mercier, and the choreographer Kim Brandstrup.

Although the majority of her work has focused on major classics of spoken drama and opera, she has also experimented with the performance of poetry (The Waste Land, Readings) and the staging of oratorio (St John Passion, Messiah), as well as installations (The St Pancras and Angel projects, Peace Camp).  She has made relatively few excursions into new work (The Powerbook, Between Worlds and Testament of Mary being exceptions) or comedy (The School for Scandal), and although she has made much creative use of video on stage, she has directed little for film and television.

Her first creations for Kick – a company that she invented and managed herself – were deeply influenced by the example of Peter Brook and his belief that the performer must always be at the centre of the event. ‘I’m not sure I would have been in any way conscious of the potency of theatre if I hadn’t seen his work,’ she said in an interview with Vogue July 1994). Other figures important in her formative years include Peter Stein, who commissioned her production of Coriolanus at the Salzburg Festival, and Nicholas Payne and Anthony Whitworth-Jones who commissioned her first essays in opera, at Opera North and Glyndebourne respectively.

Although she has refused to subscribe to a programmatic feminism or a political ideology, her work has often explored issues of gender, notably in her ground-breaking casting of Fiona Shaw as Shakespeare’s Richard II. She was also the first woman director to be given sole charge of a production in the main house of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre.

Warner’s process requires long, rigorous, and intensely exploratory rehearsal periods and she commits to a continual development of interpretation throughout a production’s lifespan of runs and revivals – principles that have often made her projects difficult to fund, especially in the UK.

Her approach transcends national barriers and cultures – to a remarkable degree, her productions have travelled globally, their resonances subtly transformed by exposure to different environments and atmospheres. Sceptical of the conventional division between stage and auditorium, she has a keen interest in exploring ‘found’ spaces, both large and small. Although she avoids gratuitous spectacle and historical literalism, her work can accommodate grandeur of scale and ‘period’ sensitivity when the material requires it.   

Informed by her Quaker background, her wide reading and constant travel, she is an artist of exceptional honesty and seriousness who does not cut corners to compromise with commercial imperatives. Deborah’s incredibly open,’ said the actor Brian Cox, who played Titus Andronicus and King Lear for her. ‘She works like a gardener: prepares the bed, plants the seed, waters it and watches it grow.’


In 1987 Warner joined the Royal Shakespeare Company, where she directed Titus Andronicus and where she also began her long-time collaboration with Fiona Shaw. Warner and Shaw have collaborated on plays including Electra (RSC); The Good Person of Sezuan (1989, National Theatre); Hedda Gabler (1991, The Abbey Theatre and BBC2); the controversial Richard II, with Shaw in the title role, also at the National Theatre (1995) and televised by BBC2; Footfalls, whose radical staging so enraged the Beckett estate that the production was pulled during its run; The PowerBook, at the National Theatre, a dramatisation of Jeanette Winterson's novel; Medea (2000–2001, Queen's Theatre and Broadway); and Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, in which Shaw played the small part of Portia. The production starred Ralph Fiennes and Simon Russell Beale; first staged at the Barbican Centre, it later toured Europe. Shaw and Warner toured the world with T. S. Eliot's The Waste Land, which began in Wilton's Music Hall in London's East End. Her work began to focus on the link of drama to places, a theme which was expanded upon in her Angel Project. In 2007, following negotiations with the Beckett estate, Warner directed Shaw in Happy Days at the National Theatre, followed in 2009 by Mother Courage and Her Children (with Shaw in the title role) at the same venue. She returned to the Barbican Centre in 2011 to direct The School for Scandal.

Opera and classical music[edit]

Warner has also worked extensively in field of opera and classical music, including a production of The Diary of One Who Disappeared by Janáček starring Ian Bostridge; a staging of the St John Passion at English National Opera; a controversial staging of Mozart's Don Giovanni at Glyndebourne;[2][5] Wozzeck for Opera North; Death in Venice and Tansy Davies' Between Worlds at English National Opera; and Henry Purcell's Dido and Aeneas with Les Arts Florissants in Vienna, Paris and Amsterdam. Other notable productions include opening the 2015/15 season at La Scala, Milan, with Fidelio conducted by Daniel Barenboim and Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin at the Metropolitan Opera in New York in the 2013/2014 season.

She frequently collaborates with Irish actress Fiona Shaw[6] and with Canadian set designer Michael Levine.[7]


Warner directed the 1999 film The Last September, starring Michael Gambon and Maggie Smith.

Personal life[edit]

Warner was made a commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) on 17 June 2006, "for services to drama".[8]

Awards and nominations[edit]




Year Work Place
1980 The Good Person of Szechwan Kick Theatre Company: Oxford
1981 Woyzeck Kick Theatre Company: Edinburgh Fringe
1982 Woyzeck Kick Theatre Company: Edinburgh Fringe
1983 The Tempest Kick Theatre Company: Edinburgh Fringe
1984 Measure for Measure Kick Theatre Company: Edinburgh Fringe
1984 The Tempest Contact Theatre, Manchester
1985 Measure for Measure Kick Theatre Company: Glasgow Mayfest; Hemel Hempstead; British Council tour, Israel Festival; Bridge Lane Theatre, London; Wells-next-the Sea
1985 King Lear Kick Theatre Company: Edinburgh Fringe; Almeida Theatre, London; British Council tour, Yugoslavia and Egypt
1986 Coriolanus Kick Theatre Company: Edinburgh Fringe; Almeida Theatre, London
1987 Titus Andronicus Royal Shakespeare Company: The Swan, Stratford
1987 The Tempest British Council tour, Bangladesh
1988 King John Royal Shakespeare Company: The Other Place, Stratford
1988 Electra Royal Shakespeare Company: The Pit, Barbican Centre, London
1988 Titus Andronicus Royal Shakespeare Company: The Pit, Barbican Centre, London
1989 Titus Andronicus Royal Shakespeare Company: The Pit, Barbican Centre, London; Madrid; Bouffes du Nord, Paris; Copenhagen; Aarhus
1989 King John Royal Shakespeare Company: The Pit, Barbican Centre, London
1989 The Good Person of Szechwan National Theatre, London
1990 King Lear National Theatre, London: Tokyo; Nottingham; Cardiff; Leeds; Belfast; Schauspielhaus, Hamburg; Teatro Lirico, Milan; Odéon, Paris; Opera House, Cork; Opera House, Cairo
1991 King Lear National Theatre, London; National Theatre, Prague; National Theatre, Bucharest; Schauspielhaus, Leipzig; Edinburgh
1991 Hedda Gabler Abbey Theatre, Dublin and Playhouse Theatre, London
1991 Electra Royal Shakespeare Company / Thelma Holt: MC 93 Bobigny, Paris; Derry; Tramway, Glasgow; Bradford
1993 Wozzeck Opera North; Leeds; Manchester; Nottingham; Hull; Sheffield
1993 Coriolanus Salzburg Festival: Felsenreitchule
1993 Hedda Gabler BBC
1994 Don Giovanni Glyndebourne
1994 Footfalls Garrick Theatre, London
1994 Coriolanus Salzburg Festival: Felsenreitchule
1995 Richard II National Theatre, London
1995 The Waste Land Kunsten Festival, Brussels; Dublin Theatre Festival
1995 Don Giovanni Glyndebourne
1995 The St Pancras Project St Pancras Chambers, London
1996 Richard II MC93 Bobigny and Pernel Insel, Salzburg Festival
1996 The Waste Land Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts, Paris; Gooderham and Worts Factory, Toronto; Rialto Cinema, Montreal; Liberty Theatre, New York
1996 Wozzeck Opera North: Leeds, Manchester;  Nottingham; Hull; and Sheffield
1997 Richard II Film
1997 The Waste Land Liberty Theatre, New York; Everyman Palace Theatre, Cork; Wilton's Music Hall, London
1997 Jeanne d'Arc au Bucher BBC Proms at Royal Albert Hall, London
1997 The Turn of the Screw Royal Opera: Barbican Centre, London
1997 Une Maison de Poupee Odéon, Paris
1998 The Waste Land Wilton’s Music Hall, London; MC93 Bobigny, Paris; Royalty Theatre, Adelaide; Brighton Festival
1998 The Turn of the Screw Royal Opera: MC 93 Bobigny, Paris
1999 The Last September Film
1999 The Diary of One who Vanished English National Opera: Coliseum, London; Dublin Theatre Festival; MC 93 Bobigny, Paris
1999 The Angel Project London International Festival of Theatre
1999 The Diary of One who Vanished English National Opera: National Theatre, London
2000 The Angel Project Perth International Arts Festival
2000 The Waste Land His Majesty's Theatre, Perth
2000 Medea Abbey Theatre, Dublin
2000 St John Passion English National Opera; London Coliseum
2000 The diary of one who vanished English National Opera: Stadsschouwburg, Holland Festival; Musiktheater, Munich
2001 The Waste Land Bergen International Festival
2001 Medea Queen’s Theatre, London
2001 The diary of one who vanished English National Opera: Lincoln Center, New York
2001 Fidelio Glyndebourne: BBC Proms, Woking; Norwich; Milton Keynes; Plymouth; Oxford; Stoke-on Trent
2002 The Power Book National Theatre, London
2002 Fidelio Théâtre du Chatelet, Paris
2002 The Turn of the Screw Royal Opera House, London
2002 Medea Abbey Theatre and Extremetaste: Brooklyn Academy of Music; Ann Arbor, Michigan; Wilbur Theatre, Boston; Kennedy Center, Washington DC; Zellerbach Hall, Berkeley
2003 Medea Brooks Atkinson Theatre, New York; Théâtre de Chaillot, Paris
2003 The Angel Project Lincoln Center Festival, New York
2003 The Power Book National Theatre: Théâtre de Chaillot, Paris; RomaEuropa, Rome
2004 Small Wonder Charleston Festival
2004 The Rape of Lucretia Bayerische Staatsoper, Munich
2005 Julius Caesar Barbican Theatre, London; Théâtre de Chaillot, Paris; Teatro Espanol, Madrid; Luxembourg
2005 Readings Théâtre de Chaillot, Paris
2006 Dido and Aeneas Wiener Festwochen, Vienna
2006 La Voix Humane Opera North: Leeds; Salford; Nottingham; Sadler’s Wells, London; Newcastle
2006 Readings Sala Umberto, RomaEuropa Festival
2007 Happy Days National Theatre, London: Holland Festival, Amsterdam; Théâtre de Chaillot, Paris; Epidavros; Abbey Theatre, Dublin; Brooklyn Academy of Music, New York
2007 Death in Venice English National Opera: London Coliseum
2007 Readings Holland Festival, Amsterdam
2008 Dido and Aeneas Opéra Comique, Paris
2009 Mother Courage and Her Children National Theatre, London
2009 The Waste Land Wilton’s Music Hall, London
2009 Death in Venice La Monnaie, Brussels
2009 Dido and Aeneas Wiener Festwochen, Vienna and Netherlands Opera, Amsterdam
2009 Messiah English National Opera: London Coliseum
2010 The Waste Land Madrid Festival
2011 Death in Venice Teatro alla Scala, Milan
2011 Eugene Onegin English National Opera: London Coliseum
2011 The School for Scandal Barbican Theatre
2012 Dido and Aeneas Opéra Comique, Paris
2012 La Traviata Wiener Festwochen, Vienna
2012 Messiah Opéra de Lyon
2012 Peace Camp London 2012 Cultural Olympics, UK: Cuckmere Haven, Sussex; Godrevy, Cornwall; Camaes, Anglesey; White Park Bay, Co Antrim; Mussenden Temple, Co Londonderry; Valtos, Isle of Lewis; Fort Diddes, Aberdeenshire; Dusntanburgh, Northumberland
2013 Testament of Mary Walter Kerr Theater, New York
2013 Eugene Onegin Metropolitan Opera, New York
2014 Testament of Mary Barbican Theatre, London
2014 Fidelio Teatro alla Scala, Milan
2015 Between Worlds English National Opera: Barbican Theatre, London
2016 The Tempest (Der Sturm) Salzburg Festival: Perner Insel
2016 King Lear The Old Vic, London
2017 Billy Budd Teatro Real, Madrid
2017 Testament of Mary Comédie-Francaise: Odéon, Paris
2017 Eugene Onegin Metropolitan Opera, New York
2018 Billy Budd Teatro Costanzi, Rome
2018 Fidelio Teatro alla Scala, Milan
2018 La Traviata Le Theatre Champs Elysees, Paris


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