Orange Tree Theatre

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The Orange Tree Theatre is a 172-seat theatre at 1 Clarence Street, Richmond in south west London, which was built specifically as a theatre in the round. It is housed within a disused 1867 primary school, built in Victorian Gothic style.

The theatre was founded in 1971 by its present artistic director, Sam Walters, and his actress wife Auriol Smith in a small room above the Orange Tree pub opposite the present building, which opened in 1991.<ref name="Richmond's Theatres">Template:Cite web</ref>

Paul Miller, currently an associate director at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield, has been appointed as artistic director to succeed Walters, the UK's longest-serving theatre director, when he leaves the Orange Tree Theatre in June 2014.<ref name="Appointed"/><ref name="Appointed">Template:Cite news</ref>

Exclusively presenting its own productions (and, in the past, occasional co-productions with the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough), the Orange Tree Theatre specialises in staging new plays and neglected classics. It also operates an educational programme called Shakespeare for Schools and runs a trainee director scheme.

The first Orange Tree Theatre

As a company the Orange Tree Theatre, then known as the Richmond Fringe, was founded on 31 December 1971 by Sam Walters and Auriol Smith in a small room above the Orange Tree pub,<ref name="Richmond's Theatres" /> close to Richmond railway station.

Six former church pews, arranged around the performing area, were used to seat an audience of up to 80 in number.

Initially productions were staged in daylight and at lunchtimes. But when theatre lighting and window-blinds were installed, matinee and evening performances of full-length plays also became possible. The London critics regularly reviewed its productions and the venue gained a reputation for quality and innovation, with theatregoers queuing on the stairs, waiting to purchase tickets.

The new Orange Tree Theatre

As audience numbers increased there was pressure to find a more accommodating space, both front and backstage. On 14 February 1991, the company opened its first production across the road in the current premises, the new Orange Tree Theatre. The theatre is housed within a converted primary school, St John's, which had been built in 1867 and had become derelict; the school was in Victorian Gothic style and the architect is likely to have been Alfred Blomfield.<ref name="Cherry and Pevsner">Template:Cite book</ref>

Meanwhile the original theatre, renamed The Room (above the pub), continued to function as a second stage for shorter runs and works in translation until 1997.

Design and conversion

The school conversion and construction design were undertaken by Iain Mackintosh as head of the Theatre Projects Consultants team. The design intent was to retain the same sense of intimacy as the old theatre, thus calling for an unusually small acting area.<ref name="Mulryne & Shewring">Template:Cite book</ref>

The solution was to create, at stage level, no more than three rows of shallow raked seating on any side of the acting area, plus an irregular, timber-clad gallery above of only one row (which helps to "paper the wall with people") under which actors could circulate on two sides to reach the stage entrances at all four corners of the playing space. Foyers and dressing rooms were sited in the rebuilt house of the former headmaster, while the theatre space itself is built where once were the assembly hall and school playground.

Any fears that the special atmosphere of the old theatre would be lost proved unfounded, and close links were formed with the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough, also founded as an in-the-round theatre by Sir Alan Ayckbourn.

Costs of development

The total construction and conversion cost including shell, fitting out, fees etc., was estimated at £1,750,000.<ref name="Hanlon">Template:Cite book</ref> The developers County and District Properties and Grosvenor Developments provided the shell structure, worth £1,000,000, as a "planning gain" for a development which also includes the European headquarters of Pepsi-Cola International. This left £750,000 to be raised by a Theatre Appeal, launched in 1988 by Richmond residents Sir Richard and Lady Attenborough.

2003 extension

In 2003 the former Royal Bank of Scotland building next door to the new theatre was modified and re-opened as a dedicated space for rehearsals, set-building and costume storage, significantly expanding and improving its operation.


As well as producing the first six plays by Martin Crimp, plays by Susan Glaspell and developing a reputation for theatrical "rediscoveries", the Orange Tree repertory has also included many special seasons for the work of James Saunders, Michel Vinaver, Rodney Ackland, Václav Havel, Harley Granville Barker and Bernard Shaw and his contemporaries, including John Galsworthy. The theatre has also premiered three plays by Torben Betts.

For the core repertory, see the separate articles on the Artistic Director Sam Walters and Associate Director Auriol Smith. But many other directors have made notable contributions, including:

  • The Lady or the Tiger (a musical by Nola York, Jeremy Paul and Michael Richmond) directed by Michael Richmond, August 1975, Fortune Theatre 1976
  • The Nest (Franz Xavier Kroetz) directed by Anthony Clark, April 1981
  • Wild, Wild Women (a musical by Nola York and Michael Richmond) directed by Michael Richmond, December 1981, Astoria Theatre 1982
  • The Bacchae (Euripides) directed by Anthony Cornish, February 1983
  • Brotherhood (Don Taylor) directed by Oliver Ford Davies, November 1985
  • Definitely the Bahamas (a trilogy of short plays by Martin Crimp, including A Kind of Arden and Spanish Girls) directed by Alec McCowen, September 1987
  • Mrs Warren's Profession (Bernard Shaw) directed by Brian Cox, starring Natasha Parry and Irina Brook. September 1989
  • Adam Bede (George Eliot's novel, adapted by Geoffrey Beevers) directed by Geoffrey Beevers, February 1990, Time Out award
  • Pere Goriot (Balzac's novel, adapted by Geoffrey Beevers) directed by Geoffrey Beevers, February 1994
  • Private Fears in Public Places (Alan Ayckbourn) an extended version of his play directed for the Orange Tree by the author, May 2005 [1]
  • The Linden Tree (J B Priestley) directed by Christopher Morahan, February 2006 [2]
  • Shakes versus Shav (Bernard Shaw) and The Tinker's Wedding (John Millington Synge) directed by Henry Bell, June 2007 [3]
  • The Years Between (Daphne du Maurier) directed by Caroline Smith, September 2007 [4]
  • Next Door's Baby (Matthew Strachan and Bernie Gaughan) a musical play directed by Paul Prescott, February 2008 [5].
  • Chains of Dew (Susan Glaspell) directed by Kate Saxon, March 2008 [6]
  • De Monfort (Joanna Baillie) directed by Imogen Bond, April 2008 [7]
  • The Story of Vasco (Georges Scherade in a verse adaptation by Ted Hughes) directed by Adam Barnard, March 2009 [8]
  • Alison's House (Susan Glaspell) directed by Jo Combes, October 2009 [9]
  • The Promise (Ben Brown) directed by Alan Strachan, February 2010 [10]
  • Taking Steps (Alan Ayckbourn) directed by the author, March 2010 [11]
  • The Ruffian on the Stair (Joe Orton) directed by Emma Faulkner, June 2010 [12]
  • Tom's a-cold (David Egan) directed by Lora Davies, June 2010 [13]
  • The Company Man (Torben Betts) directed by Adam Barnard, October 2010 [14]
  • Autumn and Winter (Lars Norén, translated by Gunilla Anderman, May 2011 [15] [16]
  • Three Farces (John Maddison Morton), directed by Henry Bell, June 2011 [17]
  • Winter (Jon Fosse), directed by Teunkie Van Der Sluijs, June 2011
  • Then the Snow Came, inspired by Oscar Wilde's short story The Happy Prince, written and directed by Jimmy Grimes, June 2011
  • The Man Who Pays The Piper (GB Stern), directed by Helen Leblique
  • Middlemarch (George Eliot), adapted as a trilogy by Geoffrey Beevers, who also directed it, autumn 2013/winter 2014<ref name="Hemming">Template:Cite news</ref>
  • It Just Stopped (Stephen Sewell), directed by David Antrobus, February 2014<ref name="Billington">Template:Cite news</ref>

Chris Monks has twice brought his particular vision of Gilbert & Sullivan, in productions of The Mikado (2005) and The Pirates of Penzance (2006), which have broken away from the Savoyard tradition.

In September 2008 the Orange Tree presented the English language premiere of Leaving by Václav Havel, which had its Czech premiere in Prague in May 2008. This was the first play Havel had written since the events of 1989 propelled him into political office. The play, which has echoes of King Lear and The Cherry Orchard, concerns the leaving of office of Chancellor Rieger and his eviction from the state villa which has been his home. Although it may appear to have an autobiographical element, Havel began writing it in the late 1980s with no idea that he would soon be his country's leader.

Shakespeare for Schools

The Orange Tree also operates an educational programme called Shakespeare for Schools, part of the Primary Shakespeare Project first devised by Sarah Gordon (director) and Christopher Geelan in 1989. It tours fully costumed adaptations, given by professional actors, in school halls around south west London and Surrey.

Trainee director scheme

Since 1986 the theatre has run a trainee director scheme, each year appointing two young assistant-directors, who direct and present a showcase production at the end of their term. Graduates of this arrangement have included Rachel Kavanaugh, Timothy Sheader, Sean Holmes, Dominic Hill and Anthony Clark.




  • Ronnie Mulryne and Margaret Shewring: Making Space for Theatre, Mulryne & Shewring Ltd, Stratford (1995) ISBN 1-900065-00-2
  • Theatre Record and its annual Indexes

External links

Template:Theatres in London Template:LB Richmond