The Watermill Theatre Celebrates 50 Years

The Watermill Theatre
Watermill Theatre – Photo by Philip Tull

This year, The Watermill Theatre, celebrates 50 years as one of the most successful regional producing theatres in the UK. West End transfers, national and international tours, and awards garnered at home and on Broadway have cemented The Watermill’s reputation. During its anniversary year, three Watermill shows will transfer to London during the spring and its production of Crazy For You, starring Tom Chambers, will tour the UK.

The Watermill continues to be a leading force in cultivating theatre-makers of tomorrow and to develop this work and the creation of new productions, the theatre is running a Name A Seat campaign to mark its 50th anniversary.

In return for a donation of £200 (individual seat in the stalls) or £100 (individual seat in the circle) donors will have their name, or a message, on a plaque which will be attached to a seat in the auditorium for 5 years. To find out more, visit watermill.org.uk where seats can be bought online.

It has also launched a Watermill Memories campaign encouraging audience members, actors, creative teams, staff and outreach participants to share their Watermill memories. Memories can be about any aspect of the theatre: a memorable first visit, the experience of working or performing at the venue or participating in its youth theatre, adult acting groups or workshops. Submissions can be made at www.watermill.org.uk/your_watermill_memory or in writing. Stories will be shared throughout the 50th anniversary year on their website, via social media and displays at the venue.

Archive Photo of The Watermill Theatre

In the early 1960s, David Gollins, with the support of his mother Judy, had the vision and the foresight to create one of the smallest and most beautiful professional theatres in the country from a derelict watermill on the banks of the River Lambourn, in the hamlet of Bagnor, just outside Newbury. The converted mill seats a maximum of 220 people. David Gilmore became Artistic Director from 1976 to 1978 and in 1981 Jill Fraser together with her husband James Sargant, bought the theatre.

Fraser developed it from a local rep, opening 26 weeks of the year, into an all year round producing house. Artistic and Executive Director from 2007 to 2015, Hedda Beeby, further enhanced The Watermill’s reputation for producing consistently high quality work and as a place where emerging theatre talent continues to be nurtured and supported. The theatre has enabled directors including Jonathan Munby, Timothy Sheader, Jamie Glover and Jessica Swale to develop their work and their skills.

The Watermill’s first professional theatre season in 1967 included a production of Under Milk Wood in which David Jason performed early in his career. Bill Nighy worked as an assistant stage manager at the theatre in 1969 before making his professional acting debut on The Watermill stage in Neil Simon’s Plaza Suite. In 1983, Sean Bean made his professional debut playing Tybalt in Romeo and Juliet.

Sean Bean performing at The Watermill Theatre
Sean Bean (right) in Romeo and Juliet at The Watermill Theatre

The Watermill has built a reputation for creating exciting and innovative Shakespeare productions. Jill Fraser, invited the young director Edward Hall, to direct a production of Othello. This was followed in 1997 by Henry V, the first production performed by the all-male company Propeller. Paul Hart, the theatre’s current Artistic Director, previously Associate Director for Propeller, continues the bold, ensemble driven approach to Shakespeare. His 50th Anniversary Season includes a new production of Twelfth Night, reimagined in the 1920s. Sheepdrove Organic Farm and Eco-Conference Centre is Principal Sponsor of the production. Directed by Hart, the production will tour nationally and internationally in repertoire with Hart’s 2016 production of Romeo + Juliet with Neal’s Yard Remedies as UK tour sponsor.

Alongside the success of its Shakespearean productions, The Watermill has played a significant part in the development of actor-musicianship. Director, John Doyle, developed this style of musical at The Watermill with productions transferring into the West End and to Broadway, where his production of Sweeney Todd won two Olivier Awards in 2006. In 2014, The Watermill’s production of Calamity Jane, co-produced with Jamie Wilson, Paul Elliott and Duncan C Weldon, performed by a cast of actor musicians, toured the UK. Crazy For You, also produced in association with Jamie Wilson Productions and starring Tom Chambers, starts its UK tour in August.

The 50th Anniversary Season opens with the British premiere of Murder For Two, running at the Watermill from 26 January to 25 February. Director, Luke Sheppard’s previous productions include the Olivier award-winning musical In The Heights (King’s Cross Theatre) and Oliver! (Watermill Theatre).

In another season highlight, Olivier and Tony award-winning actor Ian McDiarmid, well known for his role as Emperor Palpatine in the Star Wars film series as well as numerous stage credits for the RSC, National Theatre and Almeida Theatre, plays the titular role in his adaptation, Faust x2. Inspired by Philip Wayne’s translation of Goethe’s dramatic poem, Faust x2 is a gripping and atmospheric new adaptation of the immortal legend of Faust. Directed by Lisa Blair (Contractions, Sheffield Theatres), Faust x2 opens on 2 March and runs to 25 March.

Transferring to London will be The Watermill’s production of the recent Off-Broadway hit, Murder For Two, produced in association with Paul Taylor-Mills. It will play at The Other Palace (formerly St James’) from 2 to 18 March. Frankenstein transfers to Wilton’s Music Hall (7 to 18 March) and The Wipers Times by Ian Hislop and Nick Newman, a co-production with Trademark Touring, opens at the Arts Theatre on 21 March and runs to 13 May. Also, Crazy For You, presented by Jamie Wilson and Gavin Kalin, directed by The Watermill’s Artistic Director, Paul Hart, and performed by a cast of actor-musicians will tour the UK during 2017.

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