Michael Billington became Guardian theatre critic in 1971, the same year the Orange Tree Theatre was founded. After almost 50 years and some 10,000 reviews, he is about to step down as the paper’s chief theatre critic. He will join OT Artistic Director, Paul Miller to talk about his incredible career in this special Under the Orange Tree In Conversation, an event to support the work of the OT.
Under the Orange Tree is a celebration of British theatre’s history and its especially collaborative nature: it’s an unrivalled opportunity to see great artists talk up-close in the OT’s unique in-the-round space. It follows sold out Under the Orange Tree talks with Dame Judi Dench and Dame Maggie Smith in 2017, with Sir Derek Jacobi and the late Dame June Whitfield in 2018, and most recently David Suchet and Dame Penelope Wilton in 2019.
Paul Miller said: “For all my theatre-going life, Michael’s writing has set the tone for the way we think about drama in this country. His breadth of knowledge and depth of understanding are second to none. He has championed countless artists, issues and theatres with rigour and wit. It will be fascinating to hear directly from him what his own experience has been watching British theatre develop over 6 decades. As a practitioner, I have many things to ask the pre-eminent critic of our times!”
The Under the Orange Tree series helps the OT – a registered charity – achieve the £450,000 it needs to fundraise every year in addition to ticket sales. Proceeds from the events will support all aspects of the Theatre's activities: from producing re-discovered plays, to developing new work, to introducing thousands of primary school children to Shakespeare for the first time.
Tickets start from £25. Booking is now open.
Michael Billington studied at Oxford University – where he was a member of the Dramatic Society – graduating in 1961. He began working as an arts critic for the Liverpool Daily Post & Echo, then from 1962 to 1964, he served as public liaison officer and director for the Lincoln Theatre Company, in Lincolnshire. From 1965 to 1971, he reviewed television, films, and plays as an arts critic for The Times; from 1968 to 1978, was also film reviewer for the Birmingham Post, and from 1968 to 1981, for The Illustrated London News. In October 1971, he left The Times to become theatre critic for The Guardian. Beginning in the 1980s, he was a London arts correspondent for The New York Times, and, since 1988, he has also served as drama critic for Country Life.
Billington's broadcasting career started in 1965 on the BBC Third Programme. Later, he was a presenter (and participant) in Critics Forum (Radio 3), which ended in 1990, and the Kaleidoscope arts programme (Radio 4).
He is the author of several biographical and critical studies of subjects relating to British theatre and the arts, including books about Peggy Ashcroft, Tom Stoppard, and Alan Ayckbourn, as well as being the official authorised biographer of Harold Pinter, published in 1996. In March 2007 Faber and Faber published Billington's book State of the Nation: British Theatre Since 1945, which won the 2007 annual Theatre Book Prize from The Society for Theatre Research. His book The 101 Greatest Plays: From Antiquity to the Present was published in 2015.
Billington leaves his role as The Guardian's chief theatre critic at the end of 2019, although he will continue to write for the newspaper as well as reviewing for Country Life.
Paul Miller is Artistic Director of the Orange Tree Theatre where his productions include Candida, While the Sun Shines, Losing Venice, Humble Boy, Misalliance, Poison, The Lottery of Love, Sheppey, The Philanderer, French Without Tears, Each His Own Wilderness, Widowers’ Houses and The Widowing of Mrs Holroyd. He was previously Associate Director of Sheffield Theatres and has directed plays at the National Theatre, The Old Vic, Royal Court Theatre, Bush Theatre and in the West End. He recently directed Macbeth at Chichester Festival Theatre.