Jane McGowan meets Paul Miller, celebrated artistic director of Richmond’s Orange Tree Theatre
When Paul Miller was asked to become artistic director of the Orange Tree Theatre, he knew he had some pretty big shoes to fill. Up until that point, the space had been synonymous with just one man – Sam Walters. In the space of 40 years, Walters had grown the theatre from a room over a pub to its own 180-seater building, consistently staging thought-provoking and acclaimed productions.
“I was excited and daunted,” Miller admits. “Sam had dreamt of it and created it. And across the span of four decades there had hardly been a type of play that he hadn’t done. It felt like any path you chose to go down, he had been down before.”
Daunted he may have been, but he was nevertheless more than ready to accept the challenge. His rise to prominence in English theatre has been meteoric. While at university, he undertook work experience as an assistant director at the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh. On graduating he was invited to take up the roll on a full-time basis. From there, and still in his early 20s, Miller headed to the National Theatre’s new studio space as resident director.
A spell at The Crucible in Sheffield followed, which led to West End success with productions of Democracy by Michael Frayn and the Alan Bennett favourite The History Boys. So when the call came in late 2013 about the possibility of taking the helm at the Orange Tree, Miller didn’t hesitate.
“It’s the most marvellous place to do a play,” explains Paul. “You’ve got 180 people wrapped around the action. It can be incredibly intimate and it can also be epic when it needs to be.”
Miller also wasn’t fazed by the shift from director to artistic director and all the administrative baggage such a post brings.
“It’s all consuming and there are many, many, many different and contradictory pressures on you,” he explains. “I had wanted to be an artistic director for some time. It’s not about the power, but the feeling that you are in the centre of things and in touch with every part of the theatre’s life.”
- Check out our Editor's Pick of the best theatre going on in Surrey & SW London over April: essentialsurrey.co.uk/theatre-arts
Miller admits that as “gatekeeper” of such an establishment, the demand to provide consistently exciting and diverse theatre is a lot to contend with. Over the years the theatre has become known for staging such innovative productions as David Cregan’s Summer Again and George Eliot’s Adam Bede and under Miller’s lead it continues to go from strength to strength. Last year it was named UK’s Most Welcoming Theatre in the UK Theatre Awards, as well as scooping four “Offies” at the recent Off West End Awards ceremony. The Orange Tree also won the public award for the Most Welcoming Theatre in South West London – an achievement of which Miller is rightly proud.
“It’s very gratifying to win and the ‘voted for’ award was very nice and a real tribute to everyone who works here.”
Currently Miller is back in his role as director for the highly-anticipated production of Marivaux’s The Lottery of Love in a translation by acclaimed novelist John Fowles. Miller’s excitement about this previously unseen production is infectious.
“I think for fans of Fowles, this is very exciting,” he beams. “And for me there’s nothing like being in a rehearsal room with six marvellous actors. And these are real thoroughbreds.”
There is no question that after almost three years in the job, Miller has more than made his mark and just in case anyone doubts his fervour for the Clarence Road space, I shall leave the final word to the man himself: “I want the Orange Tree to be for people who are interested in engaging, enriching and entertaining drama. I want it to be for passionate theatregoers who really want a theatre that is both a London and a local theatre, which can show them something of life.”
- The Lottery of Love by Marivaux, translated by John Fowles, runs until May 13. Visit: orangetreetheatre.co.uk
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