Faced with continued closure due to the Covid 19 pandemic, the OT livestreams a performance for the first time with OT On Screen, commissioning six new short plays under the title Inside/Outside. The theatre reopens to audiences in person with the Recovery Season, starting with two short plays by Bernard Shaw on 22 May. That’s followed by Bryony Lavery’s Last Easter (rescheduled from 2020), Athol Fugard’s Statements After An Arrest Under the Immorality Act, the European premiere of Michele Lee’s Rice, and the return of Terence Rattigan’s While the Sun Shines alongside new festive family show Pinocchio.
Matthew Xia directed a revival Athol Fugard’s Blood Knot, then the UK premiere of Maya Arad Yasur’s Amsterdam (an ATC and Theatre Royal Plymouth co-production).
There were world premieres from Rose Lewenstein (Cougar, nominated for the Offie for Best New Play) and Zoe Cooper (Out of Water, nominated for the Evening Standard Theatre Award for Most Promising Playwright).
Paul Miller directed major revivals of Bernard Shaw’s Candida and Terence Rattigan’s While the Sun Shines, the most successful show in OT history.
The JMK Award came to the OT for the first time. The winner Tristan Fynn-Aiduenu directed Arinze Kene’s Little Baby Jesus.
Paines Plough’s Roundabout Season visited the OT in a co-production directed by James Grieve, featuring the world premieres of Out Of Love by Elinor Cook, Black Mountain by Brad Birch and How To Be A Kid by Sarah McDonald Hughes.
The world premiere of Joe White’s Mayfly “a warm, wise, sad, enthralling debut” (The Telegraph) directed by Guy Jones, was a five star hit.
There were the first major London revivals of Humble Boy by Charlotte Jones and Jo Clifford’s Losing Venice, both directed by Paul Miller. The latter was followed by Martin Crimp’s Dealing With Clair, which first premiered at the OT 30 years earlier, in a new English Touring Theatre co-production directed by Richard Twyman. The UK premiere of the Yale Drama Prize winner Utility by Emily Schwend was directed by Caitlin Macleod.
Selina Cadell directed the Restoration Comedy The Double Dealer and the original family show Can’t Wait for Christmas! created by Imogen Bond & Tarek Merchant was so successful, it returned for the following year’s festive season.
Roland Schimmelpfennig’s Winter Solstice, Lot Vekemans’ Poison and Branden Jacobs-Jenins’ An Octoroon all have their UK premieres at the Orange Tree.
After an extended sold out run it is announced that An Octoroon will transfer to the National Theatre in 2018. Branden Jacobs-Jenkins wins the Critics’ Circle Award and Evening Standard Theatre Awards for Most Promising Playwright. Director Ned Bennett and actor Ken Kwosu win Off West End Awards.
David Storey’s The March on Russia has its first major London revival and John Fowles’ version of Marivaux’s The Lottery of Love is seen for the first time, which Paul Miller directs. He also directs his third Bernard Shaw play for the OT, Misalliance.
The OT begins an MA in Theatre Directing, resulting in a festival of productions from the directors.
The theatre is awarded London’s Most Welcoming Theatre at the UK Theatre Awards for a second year running. The Award is voted for by the public.
The Orange Tree wins the UK Theatre Award for London’s Most Welcoming Theatre. The work of the OT is also seen in 25 other towns and cities across the country including a tour of the sell-out hit French Without Tears.
New plays The Rolling Stone by Chris Urch, The Brink by Brad Birch and Jess and Joe Forever by Zoe Cooper, play alongside the first major revivals of Caryl Churchill’s Blue Heart, Robert Holman’s German Skerries and Somerset Maugham’s Sheppey. Elinor Cook adapted Mac Barnett’s Extra Yarn, our first inhouse family show for Christmas.
Photo (Jess and Joe Forever) by The Other Richard
After winning four Offies, Alistair McDowall’s new play Pomona transfers to the National Theatre and the Royal Exchange Theatre in Autumn 2015 following a critically-acclaimed run at the Orange Tree.
Paul Miller wins the Offie for Best Artistic Director.
Ned Bennett won a UK Theatre Award for Best Director for Pomona, and Joel MacCormack for Best Actor in Each His Own Wilderness.
The OT won the Empty Space Peter Brook Award and Play Mas jointly won the Alfred Fagon Audience Award.
Paul Miller becomes the Orange Tree’s second Artistic Director. His first season includes premieres by Alice Birch, Deborah Bruce, Alistair McDowall and Adam Barnard, with major revivals of plays by DH Lawrence, Doris Lessing, Bernard Shaw and Mustapha Matura.
November 2013: Sam Walters receives a Peter Brook Empty Space Special Achievement Award. The 2013 season, which features a hugely successful three-part adaptation of George Eliot’s novel Middlemarch, is also nominated for the annual Empty Space Award. Sam and his wife and Associate Director Auriol Smith also receive Freedom of the Borough of Richmond the following year for their contribution the community.
February 2012: Martin Crimp writes and directs his first new play since 2008, written especially for the Orange Tree’s 40th birthday – Play House – and revives Definitely the Bahamas in an exclusive double bill.
July 2012: One year on from the London riots, first-time writer and writers’ group member Archie W Maddocks presents Mottled Lines, a character study of the fear and prejudices of five very different participants and observers.
September 2011: The last Havel play – The Conspirators – is produced. The UK premiere of his least-favoured play, it was also the last to be produced before his death in December of the same year.
31 December 2011: The Orange Tree Theatre turned 40, with a production of St John Hankin’s The Charity That Began At Home, directed by Auriol Smith.
Photo: The Charity That Began At Home
Sam Walters programmes a season of plays by female playwrights – spanning brand new plays, as well as neglected or forgotten plays, including: The Years Between by Daphne Du Maurier, Chains (1909) by Elizabeth Baker, the British premiere of Fanny Burney’s 1802 play The Woman Hater and the British premiere of Susan Glaspell’s Chains of Dew (1922).
September 2008: The theatre celebrates its long association with Vaclav Havel by presnting the playwright’s most recent play Leaving, a performance of which was attended by the man himself, along with two double bills of Havel’s short plays: Mountain Hotel, Audience, Protest and Private View. A company of actors performed all five productions.
The cast of Glaspell’s Chains of Dew, 2008. Photo by Robert Day.
March 2007: The Czech Centre and the Czech Embassy in London ask the theatre to host a celebration of the 30th anniversary of Charter 77 following the theatre’s association with staging the work of playwright and former Czech President Vaclav Havel.
Tom Stoppard, Vaclav Havel and Sam Walters at the Charter 77 evening. Photo by Robert Day.
The theatre is awarded the Peter Brook Empty Space Award – the second time that it has received the award.
Christopher Morahan directs at the Orange Tree for the first time with a rare revival of JB Priestley’s The Linden Tree featuring Anna Carteret and Oliver Ford Davies.
To mark 150 years since George Bernard Shaw’s birth, the theatre puts on a season of plays by Shaw and his contemporaries, including Major Barbara, Granville Barker’s The Madras House, Cicely Hamilton’s Diana of Dobson’s and John Galsworthy’s The Skin Game. The season also includes triple bills of Shaw’s short plays and public readings of some of Shaw’s major plays, including Man and Superman and Heartbreak House – with casts including Alex Jennings and Oliver Ford Davies.
The Madras House, 2006. Photo by Robert Day.
May 2005: The theatre hosts Scarborough’s Stephen Joseph Theatre Company in the world premiere of Alan Ayckbourn’s67th and latest play Private Fears in Public Places, directed by Ayckbourn himself, which plays to packed houses.
October 2005: David Lewis writes a new play, Monkey’s Uncle about a playwright writing a play about the great farceur Georges Feydeau which was inspired by, and celebrating, the Orange Tree’s tradition of doorless farces.
Christmas 2005: the theatre celebrates the work of James Saunders, a great supporter and friend of the Orange Tree who had died earlier in the year. His full length play A Journey to London (a play abondoned half way through by John Vanbrugh, which Saunders wittily completed) along with two double bills of short plays, Bye Bye Blues with Double Double, and Games with After Liverpool, making up a short season played in tribute to the playwright.
Paul Kemp in Monkey’s Uncle, 2005. Photo by Robert Day.
February 2004: Rodney Ackland’s 1932 play, Strange Orchestra is directed by previous trainee director Ellie Jones. The Orange Tree has contributed significantly to the revival of interest in Ackland’s work, presenting The Dark River in 1984 and again in 1992 and Absolute Hell in 1988.
September 2004: The theatre revives Harley Granville Barker’s first play The Marrying of Ann Leete, written when he was just 22, which hadn’t been done since an RSC production in 1975. Another great revival of a hidden gem, prompting Michael Billington to write in The Guardian: “The real delight lies in the rediscovery of a major play by what is, in effect, the National Theatre of Surrey”.
Jack Sandle and Octavia Walters in The Marrying of Ann Leete, 2004. Photo by Robert Day.
March 2003: Lorca’s The House of Bernarda Alba is given a new translation by Auriol Smith and Rebecca Morahan, who would later collaborate on Lorca’s less well known play Dona Rosita, the Spinster, produced in 2004. The theatre has produced a number of Spanish plays including works by Ana Diosdado and Alfonso Vallejo.
November 2003: The theatre presents King Cromwell, a new play by Oliver Ford Davies which dramatises Cromwell’s decision to take parliament’s offer of the crown. Ford Davies, who has often performed at the Orange Tree from the early days of the theatre played the title role.
Oliver Ford Davies as King Cromwell, 2003. Photo by Robert Day.
Torben Betts’ new play Clockwatching marks the start of a collaboration between the Orange Tree and the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough. Over the next few years a number of productions play at both venues including David Cregan’s Whispers Along the Patio and The Game Hunter by Georges Feydeau. Four of Torben Betts plays have been performed at the Orange Tree – most recently Muswell Hill (2012) and Invincible (2014).
Photo: Steven Elder in Clockwatching
Artistic Director Sam Walters is awarded an MBE.
September 1998: Sperm Wars, a new play by David Lewis arrives at the theatre as an unsolicited script, and is given a full scale production, which is quickly followed by a very popular revival. The theatre has gone on to produce a number of David Lewis premieres including: Monkey’s Uncle, GreenWash, How to Be Happy and Seven Year Twitch.
Amanda Royle in Sperm Wars, 1998
1996 – 1997: The Orange Tree celebrates its 25th Birthday. Auriol Smith directs The Verge by Susan Glaspell, the first of many plays by the American playwright to be performed at the theatre. A special anniversary production of Go Tell It on Table Mountain was produced in The Room – exactly 25 years on from the theatre’s original production.
Cast members in The Verge, 1996.
May 1995: Retreat, James Saunders’ final play is presented at the theatre. The run of the production is extended due to the high demand. The cast featured Tim Pigott-Smith and Victoria Hamilton in one of her first stage roles.
Victoria Hamilton and Tim Pigott-Smith in Retreat, 1995. Photo by Paul Thompson.
March 1994: Another Orange Tree rediscovery, The Case of Rebellious Susan by Henry Arthur Jones. It was revived later the same year due to its popularity, and director Auriol Smithwon a Time Out Award for the production.
December 1994: The theatre presents the British professional premier of Kander and Ebb’s first musical written together, Flora the Red Menace. It was a huge success and was revived the following year: ‘There is no more delightful musical in London’ The Guardian.
The cast of Flora the Red Menace, 1994.
The 21st birthday season, featuring plays by Harley Granville Barker, John Whiting, St. John Hankin and David Cregan, wins the Peter Brook Empty Space Award.
His Majesty by Harley Granville Barker is invited to play at the Edinburgh International Festival, following the success of the theatre’s earlier production of The Secret Life.
Sam Dastor as the King, with Janine Wood, Brian Hickey, Auriol Smith and Peter Wyatt in His Majesty, 1992.
Sean Holmes, now Artistic Director of the Lyric Hammersmith, completes his year as a trainee director at the OT. Founded in 1986, many other graduates of the scheme went on to be Artistic Directors of theatres, including Dominic Hill (Dundee Rep), Timothy Sheader (Open Air Regent’s Park), Rachel Kavanaugh (formerly Birmingham Rep) and Ellie Jones (formerly Southwark Playhouse).
The theatre moves into the purpose-built in-the-round space it occupies today, adapted from a disused primary school. With 172 seats, it’s the only purpose-built, full-time professional theatre-in-the-round in London. The first production was Arthur Murphy’s All in the Wrong.
Founding Orange Tree member Auriol Smith directs her first production at the Orange Tree, Cat with the Green Violin by Jane Coles.
Geoffrey Beevers wins a Time Out award for his adaptation of George Eliot’s Adam Bede. The production was later revived in 2005.
Adam Bede, 1991
February 1989: The theatre presents a season of three French plays to mark the centenary of the birth of Jean Cocteau, one of France’s most celebrated and notorious artists. Cocteau’s Les Parents Terribles plays alongside Vinaver’s Situation Vacant (la Demande d’Emloi) and the theatre’s first Moliere play, The Bourgeois Gentilhomme.
Samuel West and Elizabeth Shepherd in Les Parents Terribles, 1989. Photo by Paul Thompson.
The 1987-88 season, featuring the premiere of Rodney Ackland’s Absolute Hell, Harley Granville Barker’s The Secret Life and John Whiting’s No More A-Roying, won a Time Out Award.
Photo: Polly Hemingway in Absolute Hell
A Smile on the End of the Line (Les Travaux et les Jours) is the first play by the distinguished French playwright Michel Vinaver to be produced at the Orange Tree. The theatre has now presented more of his work than any other playwright.
Photo: A Smile at the End of Line
Martin Crimp comes to the Orange Tree with his early plays. His first play to be produced at the theatre was Living Remains in 1982, followed by Four Attempted Acts (1984), A Variety of Death Defying Acts (1985), Definitely the Bahamas (1987), Dealing with Clair (1988) and Play with Repeats (1989). In 2011, to celebrate the theatre’s 40th Birthday, Crimp wrote a new play Play House, which was performed along side a revival of Definitely the Bahamas and directed by the writer.
Tom Courtenay and Janine Wood in Dealing With Clair, 1988
1981: In the theatre’s 10th Birthday season, Anthony Clark joins as an Arts Council-funded trainee director, and stays for a second year to set up the first Shakespeare tour to schools in 1982. He also writes a number of plays which are perfomed at the Orange Tree, the first being Wake in 1982. Anthony Clark later went on to be Artistic Director of Hampstead Theatre.
October 1981: Georges Feydeau’s play Fitting for Ladies is the first farce to be performed ‘doorless’ at the theatre, a tradition that contiues for over three decades. Director Sam Walters decided to have his actors mime the opening and closing of the doors and a visible stage manager creating the sound effects live – neatly getting around the problem of obstructed sightlines when too many doors are used in the round.
Victoria Burton in Wake, 1982.
Harley Granville Barker’s translation of Jules Romain’s French play Dr. Knock marks the move towards rediscovering overlooked or ‘forgotten’ plays.
The cast of Dr Knock, 1979.
February 1977: Sam Walters programmes Audience and Private View as Charter 77 bursts onto the political scene. As the political situation continued to make headlines in the UK, the theatre responded by programming Havel’s The Memorandum immediately after. The theatre’s relationship with the playwright turned President has continued, most recently producing the first production outside Prague of his final play Leaving, in 2008 and presenting his early play The Conspirators just before his death in 2011.
Gordon Reid and Bill Wallis in the UK premiere of Audience, 1977. Photo by Andrew Ward.
Musical The Lady or the Tiger is the first OT show to transfer to the West End. Israel Horovitz’s The Primary English Class also transfers in 1980.
The cast of The Lady or the Tiger, 1975
March 1975: The Room, as it is known, is refurbished by Young’s Brewery into a licensed public theatre above the pub. Evening performances were added to the regular lunchtime performances.
After Magritte in performance, 1972 – showing the playing conditions in The Room before the renovations
March 1974: Writer Fay Weldon begins a fruitful association with the theatre with her play Words of Advice. Other plays by Weldon produced over the 70s and 80s include Mr Director (1974), Action Replay (1979), I Love My Love (1982) and The Hole in the Top of the World (1987).
Fay Weldon during rehearsals, 1974. Photo by Peter Harrap.
June 1973: The Borage Pigeon Affair by James Saunders is the theatre’s first full length play – and the first to be performed in the evening. It played on the long summer evenings as the Room had no specialist theatre lighting.
The Borage Pigeon Affair, with playwright James Saunders sitting in the background on the right, 1973. Photo by Peter Harrap.
Local writer James Saunders was involved in the theatre from the start. His plays were produced from 1972, with Bye Bye Blues (1975), Bodies (1977), Fall (1981) and Retreat (1996) written especially for the theatre.
David Cregan’s first play Liebestraum is performed. Over a dozen of his plays have now been presented at the Orange Tree, including Transcending (1974), Poor Tom (1976), Nice Dorothy (1993) with the most recent being Summer Again in 2004.
Oliver Ford Davies and Auriol Smith in the first production of After Liverpool, 1972. Photo by Ron Spillman.
31 December 1971: The Orange Tree Theatre is founded by Sam Walters above the Orange Tree pub, now opposite the current site, with lunchtime performances of Go Tell It on Table Mountain, written by Evan Jones and directed by Sam Walters. On the opening day, the play had to be performed twice in quick sucession to accommodate the eager crowds. Until 1991, the theatre operates from above the pub, playing mostly lunchtime performances. The audience are seated on church pews and the performances are played in daylight – not theatre lighting.
Photo: Ann Curthoys and Willie Jonah in Go Tell It on Table Mountain, 1971