Josie Rourke

Josie Rourke (born 3 September 1976) is an English theatre and film director. Since 2012, Rourke has been the artistic director of the Donmar Warehouse theatre in London.

Early life and education

Rourke was born in 1976 in Salford, Greater Manchester,[1] to Vivienne and Sean Rourke. She has one brother, Damian. She attended St Mary’s RC Primary School, Swinton, St Gilbert’s RC Primary School, Winton, St Patrick’s RC Secondary School, Eccles, and Eccles College of Further Education.

She was the first person in the history of her school to attend Cambridge University, where she studied English at New Hall, now Murray Edwards College. She began directing for theatre at Cambridge and amongst other credits, was the first woman in history to direct the Footlights Pantomime, which was co-written by Footlights President and Vice President Richard Ayoade and John Oliver.[2]


Upon graduating from Cambridge in 1998, she worked for Cambridge Arts Theatre, co-ordinating the BT National Connections project around East Anglia. She then moved to London, where she worked nights as a secretary for a mergers and acquisitions bank,[3] pursuing theatre projects during the days, including assisting Laurie Sansom on a production of J.B. Priestley’s Dangerous Corner at Watford Palace Theatre. After nine months of living and working in London, she was appointed Resident Assistant Director at the Donmar Warehouse.[4] Sam Mendes was then the Artistic Director. Over her year-long traineeship, she assisted Michael Grandage on Peter Nichols’ Passion Play and Merrily We Roll Along, Nicholas Hytner on Orpheus Descending starring Helen Mirren, Sam Mendes on Nick Whitby’s To The Green Fields Beyond and Phyllida Lloyd on David Mamet’s Boston Marriage, starring Zoe Wanamaker.

Following her twelve months at the Donmar, Sam Mendes asked her to direct Frame 312 on its stage,[5] and Michael Grandage invited Rourke to Sheffield to direct Kick for Touch as part of The Peter Gill Festival at Sheffield Theatres. While preparing those productions, Rourke assisted Peter Gill on his own play, The York Realist[6] and John Osborne’s Luther on the Olivier stage of the National Theatre.

Early directing career

For the next five years, Rourke freelanced at a number of theatres, while being resident at The Royal Court in London and Associate Director of Sheffield Theatres.[7]

While resident at The Royal Court theatre, under Artistic Director Ian Rickson, she programmed readings, developed new work and directed Crazyblackmuthafuckin’self[8] in the Theatre Upstairs at the Royal Court and Loyal Women in the Theatre Downstairs.[9] Her productions for Sheffield Theatres during this time were on the Lyceum, Crucible and Studio stages and included Much Ado About Nothing and Willis Hall’s The Long and The Short and The Tall.[10] Her production of Steve Waters’ play World Music transferred from Sheffield to the Donmar stage.[11] She also directed for The Royal Shakespeare Company in the Gunpowder Season, Believe What You Will by Massinger[12] and as part of the Complete Works Festival, King John by Shakespeare, with Richard McCabe, Joseph Millson and Tamsin Greig.[13] She returned to the Donmar to direct a production of David Mamet’s The Cryptogram at the Donmar starred Kim Cattrall and Douglas Henshall.[14] During this period, Rourke was UK tour director of Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues.[15]

The Bush Theatre

In 2008, Rourke was appointed Artistic Director of The Bush Theatre, one of the country’s key venues for new plays and playwrights.[16] During her time at The Bush, she programmed the first plays and early work of, amongst other writers: James Graham, Nancy Harris, Lucy Kirkwood, Nick Payne, Penelope Skinner, Jack Thorne, Steve Waters, Anthony Weigh and Tom Wells. Shortly after she was appointed, The Bush Theatre was the target of a proposed cut[17] in funding by Arts Council England. Josie made a Freedom of Information Act request which established that the proposed cut had been made using flawed evidence and data.[18] The Arts Council reinstated the theatre’s funding but gave Josie three years in which to find a new home for The Bush Theatre. In 2011, The Bush Theatre opened in new premises in a former library building, winning Theatre of the Year.[19] The new home for The Bush opened with Sixty-Six Books, a twenty-four hour performance cycle with 66 writers and 144 actors that Josie co-directed with a dozen of her peers. The cycle went on to be performed overnight in Westminster Abbey.[20]

During her time at The Bush, Rourke continued to work as a freelance director. Her projects included Twelfth Night and The Taming of The Shrew for Chicago Shakespeare Company.[21] Much Ado About Nothing for Sonia Friedman Productions at The Wyndhams Theatre with David Tennant and Catherine Tate[22] and Men Should Weep by Ena Lamont Stewart at the National Theatre.[23]

Donmar Warehouse

In 2011, Rourke was appointed Artistic Director of the Donmar Warehouse.[24] She is the first woman to hold the role and the first female theatre director to be appointed the Artistic Director of a major London Theatre.[25]

As Artistic Director, she has been responsible for programming the work of, amongst other directors: Phyllida Lloyd, who directed her all-female Shakespeare Trilogy at the Donmar;[26] Kwame Kwei-Armah; Lyndsey Turner, whose celebrated revivals of Brian Friel’s work have been a significant part of the Donmar’s programme; Polly Findlay; Blanche McIntyre; John Crowley; Joe Wright and Robert Hastie.

Her first production at the Donmar was The Recruiting Officer,[27] beginning a working relationship with actor and writer Mark Gatiss, who would go on to star in Coriolanus[28] and The Vote at the Donmar. Other notable productions at the Donmar include: Coriolanus with Tom Hiddleston; Saint Joan with Gemma Arterton;[29] Berenice with Anne-Marie Duff;[30] Conor McPherson’s The Weir; which transferred to the West-End;[31] Nick Payne’s new play Elegy, starring Zoe Wanamaker, Barbara Flynn and Nina Sosanya;[32] the innovative and campaigning Privacy (play), by James Graham (playwright);[33] The Machine by Matt Charman;[34] the musical City of Angels by Cy Coleman, Larry Gelbart and David Zippel, which won an Olivier Award;[35] Les Liaisons Dangereuses with Janet McTeer, Elaine Cassidy and Dominic West at the Donmar and Janet McTeer, Birgitte Hjort Sørensen and Liev Schreiber on Broadway;[36] and also the BAFTA-nominated play for theatre and television, The Vote, which was broadcast live onto television from the Donmar on the night of the May 2015 general election. The broadcast starred Dame Judi Dench, Mark Gatiss, Nina Sosanya and Catherine Tate and garnered the highest annual viewing figures for the channel in that slot.[37]

From the Donmar, The Weir transferred to the West End, The Machine transferred from The Manchester International Festival to The Park Avenue Armory in New York, Les Liaisons Dangereuses to Broadway and Privacy was reconceived in a US version at The Public Theater with Daniel Radcliffe playing the leading role.[38]

Upcoming projects include: The Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, a new musical with music by Tom Deering, and book and Lyrics by Josie Rourke and Hadley Fraser.[39]

A number of Rourke's productions, including Coriolanus; Les Liaisons Dangereuses; Saint Joan; and The Vote have been translated to screen via live television broadcast and NT Live.

Since 2012, Rourke has been a Non-Executive Director of public service broadcaster Channel 4.[40]

Other positions

In 2019 Josie became a Vice-President of The London Library.


In early December 2016, it was announced that Rourke would make her film debut with Working Title's Mary Queen of Scots.[41] The film stars Saoirse Ronan as Mary, Queen of Scots and Margot Robbie as Elizabeth I.[42] The filmed premiered November 15, 2018 at the AFI Fest and was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Costume Design and Best Makeup and Hairstyling.[43]

Theatre productions directed

Productions directed by Josie Rourke
Play Author Theatre Opening date Notes
Les Liaisons dangereuses Pierre Choderlos de Laclos, adapted by Christopher Hampton Donmar Warehouse 17 December 2015 Broadcast live with National Theatre Live on 28 January 2016.
The Vote James Graham (playwright) Donmar Warehouse 27 April 2015 Broadcast live on More4 on election night.
Privacy James Graham Donmar Warehouse 22 April 2014 [44][45]
Coriolanus William Shakespeare Donmar Warehouse 6 December 2013
The Machine Matt Charman Manchester International Festival 4 July 2013 [46]
The Weir Conor McPherson Donmar Warehouse 18 April 2013 [44][47]
Berenice Jean Racine, in a new version by Alan Hollinghurst Donmar Warehouse 27 September 2012 [44][48]
The Physicists Friedrich Dürrenmatt, in a new version by Jack Thorne Donmar Warehouse 31 May 2012 [44][49]
The Recruiting Officer George Farquhar Donmar Warehouse 9 February 2012 [44][50]
Sixty-Six Books various Bush Theatre 10 October 2011 [44][51]
Much Ado About Nothing William Shakespeare Wyndham's Theatre 1 June 2011 [44][52][53]
The 24 Hour Plays Old Vic Theatre 21 November 2010 [53]
Men Should Weep Ena Lamont Stewart National Theatre 18 October 2010 [44][52][53]
Here Eve Ensler Riverside Studios 1 July 2010 Broadcast live on British television in conjunction with Sky Arts[44][54][55] a fishbone... Anthony Weigh Bush Theatre 7 June 2010 [44][52][54]
The Taming of the Shrew William Shakespeare Chicago Shakespeare Theater 7 April 2010 The production included new scenes written by dramatist Neil LaBute[44][52][53][56]
If There Is I Haven't Found It Yet Nick Payne Bush Theatre 17 October 2009 [44][57]
Apologia Alexi Kaye Campbell Bush Theatre 17 June 2009 [44][52][58]
Twelfth Night William Shakespeare Chicago Shakespeare Theater 29 March 2009 [44][52][53]
2,000 Feet Away Anthony Weigh Bush Theatre 11 June 2008 [44][52][59]
Tinderbox Lucy Kirkwood Bush Theatre 23 April 2008 [44][52][60]
How To Curse Ian McHugh Bush Theatre 10 October 2007 [44][52][61]
A Year and a Day Christina Reid Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough 17 November 2006 Part of National Theatre Connections[53]
The Cryptogram David Mamet Donmar Warehouse 12 October 2006 [44][52][53]
The Life and Death of King John William Shakespeare Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon 27 July 2006 [44][52][53]
Flight without End Joseph Roth, adapted by Steve Waters London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art 1 May 2006 [62]
The Long and the Short and the Tall Willis Hall Lyceum Theatre (Sheffield) 23 February 2006 [44][52][62]
Much Ado About Nothing William Shakespeare Crucible Theatre, Sheffield 21 September 2005 [52][62]
Believe What You Will Philip Massinger Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon 18 May 2005 Later the People's Theatre, Newcastle upon Tyne and Trafalgar Studios, London[44][52][62][63]
The Unthinkable Steve Waters Crucible Studio Theatre, Sheffield 26 October 2004 [44][52][64]
Butterfly Fingers Fraser Grace The Junction Theatre, Cambridge 1 July 2004 [62]
Changed So Much I Don't Know You Steve Waters The Junction Theatre, Cambridge 1 July 2004 [62]
Dead Hand Anthony Neilson Old Vic Theatre 6 June 2004 Part of The 24 Hour Plays[62]
My Dad's A Birdman David Almond Young Vic 4 December 2003 [44][52][62]
Crazyblackmuthfuckin'self DeObia Oparei Royal Court Theatre 29 November 2003 [44][52][65]
Loyal Women Gary Mitchell Royal Court Theatre 11 November 2003 [44][52][62][66]
The Herd Sandesh Kulkarni Royal Court Theatre 1 August 2003 [66]
World Music Steve Waters Crucible Theatre, Sheffield 28 May 2003 Later Donmar Warehouse[44][52][66]
Children's Day Marvin Blair Royal Court Theatre 27 February 2003 This piece was written by Marvin Blair in 2003, whilst serving a life sentence in prison in the UK. It was developed during Voices From Within, a writing project at HM Prison Grendon in conjunction with the Royal Court Young Writers Programme. It is a 15-minute monologue, and played after the evening's performance of Iron, by Rona Munro in the Jerwood Theatre downstairs at the Royal Court.[66]
The Vagina Monologues Eve Ensler UK tour 2003 UK tour director, 2003 tour[52][62]
Romeo and Juliet William Shakespeare Liverpool Playhouse 3 October 2002 [66]
Kick For Touch Peter Gill Crucible Studio Theatre, Sheffield 23 May 2002 [44][52][66]
Frame 312 Keith Reddin Donmar Warehouse 14 March 2002 World premiere.[44][52][66]
The Wrong Side of the Rainbow Donmar Warehouse 28 January 2001 A dramatic piece based on a Carlton TV television show of the same name. Stories from the streets about London's homeless were dramatised for the stage[66]
Orpheus Descending Tennessee Williams Donmar Warehouse 27 June 2000 [67]
Passion Play Peter Nichols Donmar Warehouse 18 April 2000 [67]


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