The Watermill Celebrates 50 Years of Producing Theatre and Three London Transfers in 2017
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.
Key to The Watermill's success is its environment. There is a unique sense of community, with each new cast, stage management and creative teams all living and working on site. This demands a commitment to the work that encourages a true sense of ensemble that is visible on stage and embraced by audiences.
The Watermill's first professional theatre season in 1967 included a production of Under Milk Wood in which David Jason performed early on 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.
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. 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 Elliot 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 prior to its London transfer. Director, Luke Sheppard's previous productions include the Olivier award-winning musical In The Heights (King's Cross Theatre), Peter and the Starcatcher (Royal & Derngate), and Oliver! (Watermill Theatre).
In another season highlight, Olivier and Tony award-winning actor Ian McDiarmid (stage credits include the RSC, National Theatre, Donmar Warehouse and Almeida Theatre) plays the titular role in his adaptation, Faust X 2, inspired by Philip Wayne's translation of Goethe's dramatic poem. Directed by Lisa Blair (Contractions, Sheffield Theatres), Faust x 2 opens on 2 March and runs to 25 March.
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. It has also launched a Watermill Memories campaign encouraging actors, creative teams, audience members, staff and outreach participants to share their Watermill memories.