Fresh from its success at The Stage Awards where it was named Theatre of the Year, joint CEOs Artistic Director Paul Hart andExecutive Director Claire Murray, and the whole team at Newbury’s The Watermill Theatre were thrilled to welcome Dame Judi Dench on Friday 10 May for exclusive, one-off fundraising event – Shakespeare: Judi Dench in conversation with Brendan O’Hea

The event saw Dame Judi Dench give a unique insight into her illustrious career, alongside her friend, actor/director Brendan O’Hea (who directed Under Milk Wood at The Watermill in 2017). Judi shared Shakespearean stories and anecdotes from her illustrious career in the intimate auditorium, against the backdrop of the theatre’s 2024 Shakespeare production – Much Ado About Nothing. Judi also spent time with the acting company, hearing about their experiences and sharing her own insights and stories.

Tickets sold out within hours of going on sale, and the whole event raised over £20,000. The money raised will go to support the theatre to continue to work with local communities and produce a world class programme on stage.  

The amount raised will be subject to match funding from the Watermill Funding Alliance, meaning every £1 raised through ticket sales and donations will be quadrupled. This Funding Alliance brings together Greenham Trust, Bernard Sunley Foundation, Englefield Charitable Trust and Miss Lawrence Trust via The Good Exchange.

Artistic Director Paul Hart said, “We were delighted to welcome Dame Judi Dench and Brendan O’Hea to the Watermill Theatre. It’s so generous of them to give up their time to support our fundraising following a complete cut to our Arts Council grant. 

It was particularly fitting that Judi came and spoke about her career of performing Shakespeare on the set of our current production of Much Ado about Nothing. Her recent book highlights the importance of regional theatre in giving opportunities to actors of all ages but particularly to young performers. 

So many actors have gone on to great things having had early opportunities at the Watermill including Ncuti Gatwa, Johnny Flynn even Sean Bean! And that’s not to mention all the people working backstage and in our creative teams. 

Judi and Brendan have long been supporters of the work at the Watermill and their help has come at an invaluable time for us as we continue to navigate the future without any statutory funding.”

Claire Murray, Executive Director commented, We are indebted to Dame Judi and Brendan for providing this fantastic boost to our fundraising, and to our partners in the Greenham Trust Funding Alliance who have pledged to match every penny we raised. Dame Judi is such a passionate advocate for the arts, for the importance of introducing young people to Shakespeare and for the value of regional theatre. The funds raised through this event will help us to continue to create the work that she, and we, believe in so passionately.”