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Newbury’s Watermill announced Theatre of the Year

The Watermill has done it! Theatre of The Year!

At the annual awards ceremony at Theatre Royal Drury Lane, London, the Bagnor theatre has been announced joint winner of Theatre of the Year at The Stage Awards in association with Tysers Live in recognition of their achievements during 2023.

They share honours with London’s National Theatre.

The Watermill Photo Eden Harrhy
The Watermill Photo Eden Harrhy

The prestigious event took place in front of an audience from every corner of the industry, with guests including West End producers, artistic directors, stage stars and many of the figures who featured in The Stage 100 list.

Speaking about the accolade, co-chief executives Claire Murray and Paul Hart said: "To win an award that celebrates the work we made in our first year without Arts Council funding feels amazing. It's testament to the hard work of the staff team, all the brilliant freelancers who have been part of our year and it's been made possible by a huge amount of support. We are grateful to have the spotlight on The Watermill, our tiny theatre that today stands alongside The National Theatre as a joint winner of Theatre of the Year.”

The Watermill Theatre’s win represented a heroic comeback story. Since losing its Arts Council England funding at the end of 2022, the team at the Watermill have worked tirelessly to ensure that the theatre not only survives, but thrives. Nowhere is this clearer than in its triumphant summer hit production of the Lord of the Rings musical, its boldest production to date.

Claire Murray and Paul Hart
Claire Murray and Paul Hart

Paul Hart added : As we embarked on 2023, we wanted to produce a year that would share the joy of theatre and of our unique home with as many people as possible. We're so proud to have premiered Notes from a Small Island, The Suspicions of Mr Whicher, Mansfield Park (produced with Two Gents), a new version of Through The Looking Glass for Youth Theatre and of Macbeth that toured to schools and a new musical of The Wizard of Oz. In addition, bringing Barney Norris' beautiful play Visitors to our intimate stage, which touched the experience of so many audiences.

“The Lord of The Rings was the centre piece of our year, drawing 17,000 people to the world of the Shire to enjoy an epic story on a tiny scale told by an astonishing company of 20 actor musicians.

“And 2023 was also a year that saw our production of Bleak Expectations transferred to the West End for a 14 week run at the Criterion.

“We're proud to have navigated the first year without subsidy so successfully. We know there will be greater challenges ahead, but this award is a wonderful boost to our confidence giving us the recognition of the industry for the quality and ambition of our work.”


Lord of The Rings Ensemble - Pic: Pamela Raith
Lord of The Rings Ensemble - Pic: Pamela Raith

Now entering its 14th year, The Stage Awards were launched in 2010 to highlight the achievements in theatre across the UK. This year it turned its attention to 30 nominees across nine categories, all of whom exemplified the very best of the theatre community.

For the first time this year, there was also the surprise addition of a Judges’ Award, presented to theatre company Chickenshed, in celebration of 50 years of excellence.

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