Orange Tree at Risk

Published: 10 August 2014
Reporter: Howard Loxton

It is now common knowledge that Arts Council England has made some savage cuts in its funding to a number of companies. In the case of the Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond they have taken away the whole of its grant.

Speaking for ACE, Neil Darlison, director of theatre, pointed out that competition to become an arts council national portfolio organisation for 2015-18 was “extremely fierce” and he says ACE is ”in positive discussions” with the Orange Tree about its future plans and “committed to working with it to help the organisation realise its ambitions”.

However there is considerable concern about the future of a theatre that has for so many years played an important part in the development of writers, directors and actors and in reviving important past drama as well as new plays.

Andrew Macbean, chair of Equity’s west and south-west London branch, has sent a letter to Peter Bazalgette, chair of the funding body which is signed by 1,000 members of the theatre world, headed by a bevy of famous names.

We reproduce that letter below. He is preparing a further list of another 1,000 names to send as a follow up and asks those who work in the business to send him an e-mail at: [email protected], giving your name and job.

Theatregoers can also make their own comments by emailing [email protected].

Dear Peter,

Re : The Orange Tree Theatre

I am writing to you on behalf of the W&SW London Branch of Equity, plus many other industry professionals, about the recent NPO funding announcement. Equity Branches are run by members for members as a communications link between the Union's grass-roots and head office, to support members in their working lives and to further the Union's campaigning.

We realise you have had difficult decisions to make and applaud the inclusion of new and ambitious arts companies in your recent round of funding. However we are devastated at your 100% cut for The Orange Tree Theatre. It is one of London's most prolific producers of plays. It has brought remarkable UK, European and World writers to the public's attention and regularly sells out. It has run one of the most successful trainee theatre director programmes of any theatre or training establishment and employs huge numbers of actors of all ages and backgrounds.

We were delighted when the Board appointed Paul Miller as Artistic Director, and believe his launch programme is ambitious and challenging with an exciting choice of plays and directors. To withdraw funding at this sensitive time when Paul is taking over after the 43 year tenure of the extremely popular Sam Walters, putting the theatre into such dire straits, is reckless and destructive. We don't expect to be party to private discussions between ACE and the Orange Tree but please help us understand why a theatre we value so dearly is considered unworthy of financial support.

Every single one of the names on the following pages has emailed me to offer their personal support. We are all industry professionals, some with significant experience and recognition and some who have only just joined this business. We place huge value on the The Orange Tree and want to see its future secure. Please take our concerns seriously.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely

Andrew Macbean Chair, W&SW London Equity Branch