I haven't seen a West End show in 10 years, says Jonathan Miller

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The Independent Culture

Even the most cursory glance across the breadth of West End plays staged in the past decade would reveal a clutch of golden moments in the history of contemporary British theatre.

Recent years have seen critical acclaim for Jerusalem and Enron, a renaissance in new writing at the Royal Court, countless transfers to Broadway and the stellar rise of exciting playwrights such as Lee Hall, Yasmina Reza and Jez Butterworth.

One might assume that Jonathan Miller, the revered theatre and opera director, who made his own name on stage, would have become a familiar face at preview nights for these stage gems to keep abreast of fresh new talent. But no. Yesterday, Miller confessed he had seen none of the most significant productions of our time because he had not been to the theatre for "nearly 10 years".

Speaking to The Independent, Miller, aged 76, confessed he had no idea about the state of contemporary theatre because he preferred to give it all a miss.

"I don't bother," he said. "I'm not interested in theatre, I never was. I don't want to go to the West End; I hate travelling, I prefer to be at home with my grandchildren, and just go to Marks & Spencer."

Miller, who first found fame at the Edinburgh Festival in 1960 as part of the satirical ensemble Beyond the Fringe, also dismissed any interest in the annual event in Scotland, saying "I'm not the least bit interested in the Fringe."

The last time he willingly followed plays, he added, was in the misty realms of his youth. "I was interested in theatre when my parents took me to the Old Vic in the late 1940s and 50s," he added.

This week, Miller says he finally broke this decade-long snub by turning up to Caryl Churchill's Light Shining in Buckinghamshire.

Continuing a withering attack on his own trade, Miller said a glut of famous faces had made the West End even less appealing than it was the last time he fired a broadside against English theatre's apparent obsession with celebrity.

"The West End has become intoxicated by celebrities and stars, you can't get anything on without famous figures. There are many, many people outside that illuminated circle who are just as good, but they are not showing off. It's ridiculous and it means the best things happen in places like the [smaller and more experimental] Arcola and the Tricycle Theatres," he said.

In 2007, Miller directed Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield, his first work on the British stage for 10 years. A year later, he put on an acclaimed production of Hamlet at the Tobacco Factory in Bristol. The same year, he made headlines by railing against celebrity culture in the West End.

Miller suggested that his absence from the West End was because of a lack of reasonable offers rather than a desire not to direct. "I will never go back [to the theatre] now. I don't get asked to do anything and the last thing I will do is solicit jobs. Until 10 years ago, someone always asked me to do something," he said.

Miller also said he found the attitudes of some theatre-goers grating: "I get very impatient with people who say 'I go to the theatre to be taken out of myself'.

"I think 'there's probably nothing in yourself'. I'm only interested in making sure people are reintroduced to themselves. Great theatre draws your attention to things in real life, to the negligible, the boring and nondescript. A playwright like Chekhov makes that considerable and reintroduces us to the things that we have overlooked."

After coming to prominence in the 1960s with Beyond the Fringe, along with his fellow comics Peter Cook, Dudley Moore and Alan Bennett, Miller began directing operas in the Seventies, despite having only a light grasp of the art – and an inability to read music.