Orange Tree Theatre

Orange Tree Theatre
Address 1 Clarence Street, Richmond,
London Borough of Richmond upon Thames
 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
Opened 1971 (in previous venue)
Rebuilt 1991
Years active 1971–present
Architect believed to be Arthur Blomfield (original 1867 building)

The Orange Tree Theatre is a 168-seat theatre at 1 Clarence Street, Richmond in south west London, which was built specifically as a theatre in the round.[1] 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.[2]

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 retired from the Orange Tree Theatre in June 2014.[3]

The Orange Tree Theatre specialises in staging new plays and neglected classics. It has a community and education programme that reaches over 20,000 young people every year.

The theatre won the Empty Space Peter Brook Award in 2006 and 2015.

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,[2] 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

The new theatre and the 2003 extension

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 Arthur Blomfield.[4]

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.[5]

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.[6] 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 included the European headquarters of Pepsi-Cola International. This left £750,000 to be raised by an 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.[7]

Arts Council funding

In July 2014, Arts Council England removed the theatre from its list of National Portfolio Organisations for 2015–2018 which means the theatre has to bridge the funding gap with that from external sources.[8] In July 2016, Arts Council England announced that it would be awarding £75,000 to the Orange Tree Theatre over the next three years as part of the Catalyst: Evolve fund which matches fundraised income.[9]


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. In Paul Miller's first season he presented revivals of plays by George Bernard Shaw, DH Lawrence and Doris Lessing as well as premiering plays by Alistair McDowall, Deborah Bruce and Alice Birch. The theatre's 2014 production of Alistair McDowall's Pomona was well received by the critics[10][11][12] and it transferred to the National Theatre and Royal Exchange Theatre in autumn 2015.[13][14] The Orange Tree Theatre's production of Deborah Bruce's play The Distance, which received a four-starred review in The Guardian in 2014,[15] returned to the Orange Tree in November 2015, following a run at Sheffield's Crucible Studio.[14]

For the core repertory, see the separate articles on Paul Miller, Sam Walters and 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.

Trainee Director scheme/ Resident Director post

From 1986 to 2014 the theatre ran a trainee director scheme, each year appointing two young assistant directors. Graduates of this scheme included Rachel Kavanaugh, Timothy Sheader, Sean Holmes, Dominic Hill and Anthony Clark. This was replaced by a Resident Director position in 2014/15.


Sam Walters and Auriol Smith receiving the Empty Space Peter Brook Award for the Orange Tree Theatre in 2006

The Orange Tree Theatre won the Empty Space Peter Brook Award in 2006 and 2015.[19]

See also


  1. "Orange Tree Theatre". VisitRichmond. London Borough of Richmond upon Thames. Retrieved 16 February 2015.
  2. 1 2 "Richmond's Theatres" (PDF). Local History Notes. London Borough of Richmond upon Thames. Retrieved 23 November 2013.
  3. "Orange Tree appoints Paul Miller as artistic director". BBC News. 22 November 2013. Retrieved 22 November 2013.
  4. Bridget Cherry and Nikolaus Pevsner (1983). The Buildings of England – London 2: South. London: Penguin Books. p. 528. ISBN 0-14-0710-47-7.
  5. Ronnie Mulryne and Margaret Shewring (1995). Making Space for Theatre. Stratford on Avon: Mulryne & Shewring Ltd. ISBN 1-900065-00-2.
  6. Marsha Hanlon (ed.) (February 1991). Orange Tree Theatre (brochure). Orange Tree Theatre.
  7. Neil Dowden (21 September 2011). "Sam Walters". Exeunt Magazine. Retrieved 5 September 2014.
  8. Ben Clare (1 July 2014). "Paul Miller reacts to loss of Arts Council NPO funding for the Orange Tree". Orange Tree Theatre. Retrieved 7 July 2014.
  9. "Orange Tree Theatre awarded £75,000 in Arts Council England funding over 3 years" (Press release). Orange Tree Theatre. 27 July 2016. Retrieved 30 July 2016.
  10. Henry Hitchings (17 November 2014). "Pomona, Orange Tree – theatre review: 'this dark new play from Alistair McDowall has the power to suck us in'". London Evening Standard. Retrieved 14 March 2015.
  11. Susannah Clapp (23 November 2014). "Pomona review – fierce dystopian drama with terrific comic edge". The Guardian. Retrieved 14 March 2015.
  12. Paul Taylor (18 November 2014). "Pomona, Orange Tree Theatre, review: Brilliantly creepy and compelling". The Independent. Retrieved 14 March 2015.
  13. Chris Wiegand (10 March 2015). "Alistair McDowall's Pomona transfers to National Theatre and Royal Exchange". The Guardian. Retrieved 14 March 2015.
  14. 1 2 Tom Ambrose (22 March 2015). "National Theatre success for Orange Tree Theatre's Pomona". Richmond and Twickenham Times. Retrieved 22 March 2015.
  15. Michael Billington (12 October 2014). "The Distance review – Helen Baxendale in an anguished tale of motherhood". The Guardian. Retrieved 22 March 2015.
  16. Laura Thompson (19 March 2013). "The Man Who Pays the Piper, Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond, review". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 4 April 2013.
  17. Sarah Hemming (22 November 2013). "Adapting novels for the theatre". Financial Times. Retrieved 23 November 2013.
  18. Michael Billington (11 February 2014). "It Just Stopped – review". The Guardian. Retrieved 23 February 2014.
  19. Daisy Bowie-Sell (3 November 2015). "Orange Tree Theatre wins the Empty Space Peter Brook Award". What's On Stage. Retrieved 12 November 2015.


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