The Watermill Theatre is a professional repertory theatre with charitable status. Established in 1967, it is a converted watermill beside the River Lambourn, in the village of Bagnor, Newbury, Berkshire.
Watermill Theatre from the front
The ancient mill of Bagnor was converted into a theatre in the early 1960s. It retains many of its original architectural features such as the waterwheel, wooden beams and corn chutes, which protrude through the lighting arrays. Although housed in a 200-year-old building, the theatre uses state of the art technology.
The first short professional season opened in 1967. Jill Fraser was a co-owner of the theatre from 1981 until her death in 2006. Her vision has led the Watermill to build an excellent reputation worldwide. Some of the most famous actors who began their careers at the Watermill include Bill Nighy, Sean Bean and David Suchet. Notable premieres under Jill's administration were works by Vivian Ellis, award-winners George Stiles, Anthony Drewe and The Great Big Radio Show! by Philip Glassborow.
The theatre was put up for sale by the Sargant family 2008. A development board was established, chaired by Ralph Bernard, and was successful in raising funds to purchase the building and grounds. The theatre is now run by a board of trustees. Hedda Beeby was appointed as Artistic and Executive Director and held the post from 2007 to 2015. In 2015, the current Artistic and Executive Director, Paul Hart, was appointed to take over from Hedda Beeby
Programmes and reception
Despite its distinctly local feel, The Watermill's productions are reviewed very favourably by national newspapers as well as local. Many productions have transferred to the West End. The Watermill tours each year to village halls and small arts centres with these shows also playing at the theatre for two weeks. Some productions tour to large-scale theatres around the UK.
The Watermill is a leading force in cultivating the theatre-makers of tomorrow. Its creativity and in-house skills are widely recognized and it gives guidance to those starting out and provides a creative springboard for work on a larger scale. The Watermill Theatre developed the highly successful actor-musician genre working with Tony Award winners John Doyle and Sarah Travis. Notable Watermill productions of this genre include Pinafore Swing, A Star Danced, Ten Cents a Dance, Sweeney Todd, which transferred to Broadway, and Mack and Mabel, which have gone on from The Watermill to tour the UK and transfer to the West End. The Watermill has also produced several actor-musician shows directed and choreographed by Craig Revel Horwood, also known for his role as a judge on Strictly Come Dancing, with musical arrangements by Sarah Travis, these include Hot Mikado, a condensed actor-musician version of the already existing Hot Mikado which in turn is a jazzed=up version of the Gilbert and Sullivan comedy opera The Mikado). Other successful productions include Martin Guerre, Spend Spend Spend and Copacabana. More recent actor-musician productions include Thoroughly Modern Millie and Radio Times directed by Caroline Leslie and Calamity Jane, directed by Nikolai Foster.
The all-male Shakespeare company Propeller started life at The Watermill under the direction of Edward Hall with the support of artistic director Jill Fraser. Edward Hall first worked at The Watermill in 1995, when he directed Othello. Henry V in 1997 was the first time he worked with an all-male company. Until 2010 all Propeller productions were produced, toured at home and abroad and were transferred to London by The Watermill.
Alongside its work on stage, the theatre also has a thriving Outreach programme with more than 13,000 people taking part each year. Some 155 children and young people visit the theatre each week to participate in youth theatre, from toddlers and their parents in the Waterminis group to 25-year-old members of The Watermill Young Company. The Outreach Department deliver workshops to secondary schools and colleges. It stages special large-scale productions with primary school children. There are drama groups for older people and one day events for adults. The Outreach dept also delivers a programme of training for businesses.
- "The Watermill", Propeller website.