Theatre News

Orange Tree’s Sam Walters, UK’s longest-serving artistic director, announces retirement

Sam Walters, the UK’s longest serving artistic director, is stepping down from the Orange Tree Theatre next year after 42 years at the helm.

Sam Walters
Sam Walters

Walters founded the theatre in 1971 above the Orange Tree pub in Richmond. His wife and associate director, Auriol Smith, will also join him in leaving in June 2014.

Speaking to WhatsOnStage in 2011, Walters said of his retirement plans: “The world changes and it’s changing very fast now, so it’s probably a good thing to get rid of an old man who doesn’t even have a computer at home. So yes, the next 40 years will be in someone else’s hands. It will feel rather like letting my children go.”

Of his longevity, he added: “We had no idea when we started whether we’d last six months, never mind six years or sixteen years… I’ve stayed, which is not what you’re supposed to do in theatre. You’re supposed to live out of a suitcase and be a vagabond.”

The Orange Tree moved to its present premises in February 1991. It was London’s first purpose built theatre-in-the-round and remains the only permanent venue of this kind in the capital.

According to a press statement from the venue, “Sam Walters’ and Auriol Smith’s departure closes a chapter for the Orange Tree Theatre. It follows one of the most successful seasons in the theatre’s life which saw full houses and universal acclaim for the last four productions.”

The position of artistic director will be advertised later this month.