Orange Tree Theatre

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Orange Tree Theatre
The Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond - geograph.org.uk - 398198.jpg
Address 1 Clarence Street, Richmond
London
 United Kingdom
Coordinates 51°30′08″N 0°23′15″W / 51.5022°N 0.3875°W / 51.5022; -0.3875
Type Fringe theatre
Capacity 172
Construction
Opened 1971 (in previous venue)
Rebuilt 1991
Years active 1971–present
Architect believed to be Arthur Blomfield (original 1867 building)
Website
www.orangetreetheatre.co.uk

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.[2] It is housed within a disused 1867 primary school, built in Victorian Gothic style.

The theatre was founded in 1971 by its previous 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.[3]

Paul Miller, previously associate director at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield, is the artistic director. He succeeded Walters, the UK's longest-serving theatre director, who left the Orange Tree Theatre in June 2014.[4][4]

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[edit]

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 Public House,[3] 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[edit]

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.[5]

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[edit]

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.[6]

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[edit]

The total construction and conversion cost including shell, fitting out, fees etc., was estimated at £1,750,000.[7] 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[edit]

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.[8]

Funding cut[edit]

On 1 July 2014 Arts Council England removed the theatre from its list of National Portfolio Organisations for 2015–2018 which means the theatre will have to bridge the funding gap with that from external sources.[9]

Repertory[edit]

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 previous artistic director Sam Walters and associate director Auriol Smith. But many other directors have made notable contributions, including:

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[edit]

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[edit]

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.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Michael Billington (18 December 2002). "Modern life is rubbish". The Guardian. Retrieved 23 November 2013. 
  2. ^ Visit Richmond, London Borough of Richmond upon Thames
  3. ^ a b "Richmond's Theatres". Local History Notes. London Borough of Richmond upon Thames. Retrieved 23 November 2013. 
  4. ^ a b "Orange Tree appoints Paul Miller as artistic director". BBC News. 22 November 2013. Retrieved 22 November 2013. 
  5. ^ Bridget Cherry and Nikolaus Pevsner (1983). The Buildings of England – London 2: South. London: Penguin Books. p. 528. ISBN 0 14 0710 47 7. 
  6. ^ Ronnie Mulryne and Margaret Shewring (1995). Making Space for Theatre. Stratford on Avon: Mulryne & Shewring Ltd. ISBN 1-900065-00-2. 
  7. ^ Marsha Hanlon (ed.) (February 1991). Orange Tree Theatre (brochure). Orange Tree Theatre. 
  8. ^ Neil Dowden (21 September 2011). "Sam Walters". Exeunt Magazine. Retrieved 5 September 2014. 
  9. ^ "Paul Miller reacts to loss of Arts Council NPO funding for the Orange Tree". Orange Tree Theatre. Retrieved 7 July 2014. 
  10. ^ Sarah Hemming (22 November 2013). "Adapting novels for the theatre". Financial Times. Retrieved 23 November 2013. 
  11. ^ Michael Billington (11 February 2014). "It Just Stopped – review". The Guardian. Retrieved 23 February 2014. 

Sources[edit]

  • 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[edit]