Bristol Old Vic

Bristol Old Vic

Coordinates: 51°27′07″N 2°35′38″W / 51.452°N 2.594°W / 51.452; -2.594

Bristol Old Vic Theatre Company
Address King Street, BS1 4ED
City Bristol
Country United Kingdom
Designation Grade I listed building
Owned by Trustees of the Theatre Royal
Capacity 400 (Theatre Royal)
150 (New Vic Studio)
Type Repertory
Opened 1776
Rebuilt 1970–72
Bristol Old Vic (Historic Information)

The Coopers' Hall (right) became the theatre foyer in the 1970s.
Bristol Old Vic is located in Bristol
Location within Bristol
General information
Architectural style Palladian
Town or city Bristol
Country England
Coordinates 51°27′07″N 2°35′40″W / 51.451906°N 2.594316°W / 51.451906; -2.594316
Completed 1744
Design and construction
Client Coopers' Company
Architect William Halfpenny

The Bristol Old Vic is a theatre company based at the Theatre Royal, King Street, in Bristol, England. The theatre complex includes the 1766 Theatre Royal, which claims to be the oldest continually-operating theatre in England, along with a 1970s studio theatre (the New Vic), offices and backstage facilities. Since the 1972 rebuild, it also incorporates the eighteenth-century Coopers' Hall as its foyer. The entire complex has been Grade 1 listed since December 2000.

The present company was established in 1946 as an offshoot of the London Old Vic theatre. It is associated with the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, which became a financially independent organisation in the 1990s. Bristol Old Vic also runs a popular, and highly successful Young Company for young people aged 7–25.[1]

The theatre was closed from 2007–8, due to the need for a major refurbishment. It re-opened in December 2008 for one year; and will then close for refurbishment, which is planned to be completed by 2012. During the closure of the King Street premises, the company will relocate to other premises in central Bristol.[2]


History of the theatre

The theatre is situated on King Street, a few yards from the Floating Harbour. Since 1972, the public entrance is through the Coopers' Hall, the earliest surviving building on the site, having been built in 1744 for the Coopers' Company, the guild of coopers in Bristol, by architect William Halfpenny.[3] It has a "debased Palladian" façade with four Corinthian columns. It only remained in the hands of the Coopers until 1785, subsequently becoming a public assembly room, a wine warehouse, a Baptist chapel and eventually a fruit and vegetable warehouse.[4]

The "Theatre in King Street" was built to designs by Thomas Paty between 1764 and 1766 on land behind and to one side of the Coopers' Hall, with a passage through one of the houses in front of it serving as an entranceway.[5] The design of the auditorium was based, with some variations, on that of the Drury Lane Theatre Royal in London.[6] The theatre opened on 30 May 1766 with a performance which including a prologue and epilogue given by David Garrick. As the proprietors were not able to obtain a Royal Licence, productions were announced as "a concert with a specimen of rhetorick" to evade the restrictions imposed on theatres by the Licensing Act 1737.[7] This ruse was soon abandoned, but a production in the neighbouring Coopers' Hall in 1773 did fall foul of this law.[8]

Legal concerns were alleviated when the Royal Letters Patent were eventually granted in 1778, and the theatre became a patent theatre and took up the name "Theatre Royal".[7] At this time the theatre also started opening for the winter season, and a joint company was established to perform at[9] both the Bath Theatre Royal and in Bristol, featuring famous names including Sarah Siddons,[10] whose ghost, according to legend, haunts the Bristol theatre. The auditorium was rebuilt with a new sloping ceiling and gallery in 1800. After the break with Bath in 1819 the theatre was managed by William M'Cready, the father of William Charles Macready, with little success, but slowly rose again under his widow Sarah M'Cready in the 1850s.[5] Following her death in 1853 the M'Creadys' son-in-law James Chute took over,[11] but he lost interest in the Theatre Royal, which fell into decline when he opened the Prince's Theatre, originally known as the New Theatre Royal,[12] in 1867. A new, narrow entrance was constructed through an adjacent building in 1903.[5]

Formation of the Bristol Old Vic

Bristol Old Vic seen from the east

Chute relinquished his lease on the Theatre Royal in 1861,[5] concentrating his business at the Prince's Theatre, which was destroyed by bombing during the Second World War.[13] In 1942 the lease owners put the building up for sale.[14] The sale was perceived as a possible loss of the building as a theatre and a public appeal was mounted to preserve its use, and as a result a new Trust was established to buy the building.[8] The Council for the Encouragement of Music and the Arts (CEMA) leased the building from the Trust[5] and in 1946 CEMA's successor, the Arts Council, arranged for a company from the London Old Vic to staff it, thus forming the Bristol Old Vic. Early members of the company included Peter O'Toole,[15] John Neville,[16] Timothy West,[17] Barbara Leigh-Hunt[18] and Dorothy Tutin.[19] The first artistic director was Hugh Hunt.[20] An early triumph for the Bristol Old Vic occurred when the 1954 première production of Salad Days transferred to the West End and became the longest-running musical on the London stage at that time.[21] The Arts Council remained involved until 1963 when their role was taken over by the City Council. In the same year the London Old Vic was disbanded and the Bristol company became fully independent.[20] The Bristol Old Vic also put plays on in the council-owned Little Theatre from then until 1980.

The present theatre complex, designed by Peter Moro, was completed in 1972.[5] The 1903 entrance building was demolished, as were a number of surrounding buildings and, more controversially, the stage area of the 1766 theatre. A new stage and fly tower were built along with technical facilities and offices. The 150 seat New Vic Studio (now the Studio) theatre was built in place of the old entrance, and the Coopers' Hall provided the theatre with the grand façade and foyer area it had previously lacked.[4]

Throughout the 1970s and 80s Bristol Old Vic productions were well received both locally and on tour, but by the late 80s chronic underfunding placed the company in danger. A revival occurred under the leadership of Andrew (Andy) Hay who ran his first season with a company of 16 including musical director John O'Hara and associate directors Ian Hastings and Kristine Landon-Smith, producing nine plays in the Theatre Royal, the Studio and on a small scale regional tour. An increase in audience numbers and a varied programme of classics, new work and popular entertainment, including annual pantomimes followed.[22] Local companies and small scale touring companies were given access to the studio and the Theatre Royal[23] and an experimental space was developed in the former basement bar area. However the funding problems did not cease and the company was not financially viable, partly as a result of the relatively small capacity of the performance spaces.[24]

Current status

Interior of the main theatre
The Coopers' Hall front entrance

Despite a new Arts Council funding package and the appointment of David Farr and Simon Reade as joint Artistic directors in January 2003,[25] the company continued to lose money. Farr and Reade briefly branded the organisation as the "new bristol old vic" and its two theatres were temporarily called the "main house" and the "studio". Farr left Bristol to join the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith, in the summer of 2005,[26] leaving Reade as sole artistic director.

In July 2007, the board of trustees made a shock decision to close the theatre due to its need for refurbishment.[27] Reade left without announcing the closure to staff, most of whom were made redundant. Many members of the theatre profession feared for the future of Bristol Old Vic as a producing organisation.[28][29][30][31][32]

Following several public meetings in the winter of 2007/2008 a new board of trustees was formed and they appointed Dick Penny, the director of the Watershed Media Centre and the former director of the city's Little Theatre as executive chairman. The Bristol Old Vic will work throughout 2009 in the Theatre Royal Complex, after the completion of safety works in Autumn 2008.[33] They plan to relocate in 2010, possibly to L-shed, a former dockside warehouse, where the company produced A. C. H. Smith's Up the Feeder Down the Mouth and Back Again in 2001.[34] In 2012 they will move back to the re-developed Theatre Royal complex.[35][36] Some reservations about the plan have been expressed, especially in respect of the knock-on effects on other Bristol arts organisations which are suffering funding cuts from the city council.[37][38]

On 25 February 2009 the company announced that Tom Morris, at that time an associate director at the Royal National Theatre and formerly head at Battersea Arts Centre, had been appointed as Artistic Director.[39][40][41] Emma Stenning, who had previously worked with Tom Morris at BAC, became Executive Director.[42]


The Bristol Old Vic has a long history of taking productions on tour both within the United Kingdom and overseas. Notable production toured include Hamlet, Arms and the Man and A Man for all Seasons to Ceylon and Pakistan in 1962–63;[43] Hamlet and Measure for Measure to America, Holland and Belgium in 1966–67[43] and Man and Superman to the June Schauspielhaus Festival in Zurich, 1958.[44] The company has also made frequent visits to the Edinburgh Festival and productions have toured to the Theatre Royal Bath, Oxford Playhouse, Royal Court Theatre, London and the Young Vic, London amongst others.[45] Co-productions have taken Bristol Old Vic plays to most of Britain's major theatres.[46]

Artistic directors of the Bristol Old Vic

Name Period Notable productions
Hugh Hunt[47] 1946–1949 The Beaux' Stratagem, The Playboy of the Western World, An Inspector Calls, Romeo and Juliet
Allan Davis[48] 1950 Arms and the Man, Julius Caesar
Denis Carey[49] 1950–1954 The Merry Wives of Windsor, Macbeth, An Italian Straw Hat, The Alchemist
John Moody[50] 1954–1959 The Crucible, The Cherry Orchard, Uncle Vanya, The Recruiting Officer, As You Like It
John Hale[51] 1959–1962 The Clandestine Marriage, A Taste of Honey, Rhinoceros, Richard II
Val May[52] 1962–1975 Brand, The Killing of Sister George, Hamlet, The Italian Girl, Uncle Vanya
Richard Cottrell[53] 1975–1980 The National Health, Hedda Gabler, As You Like It, A Doll's House, A Midsummer Night's Dream
John David 1980–1986 Judy, King Lear, Wild Oats, Arturo Ui, The Tempest
Leon Rubin[54] 1986–1987 The Doctor's Dilemma
Paul Unwin[55] 1987–1991 The Man Who Had All the Luck, Hamlet, The Master Builder
Andy Hay[22] 1991–2002 Blue Remembered Hills, The Duchess of Malfi, The Hairy Ape, The Rise and Fall of Little Voice, Marat/Sade, A Streetcar Named Desire
David Farr and Simon Reade[25] 2003–2005 Loot (Farr), The Odyssey (Farr), Private Peaceful (Reade)
Simon Reade[26] 2005–2007 The Birthday Party
Tom Morris[39] 2009–present Juliet and her Romeo, Swallows and Amazons


Bristol Old Vic Theatre School

The Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, opened by Laurence Olivier in 1946, is an affiliate of the Conservatoire for Dance and Drama,[57] an organisation securing the highest standards of training in the performing arts, and is an associate school of the University of the West of England.[58] The School began life in October 1946, only eight months after the founding of its parent Bristol Old Vic Theatre Company, in a room above a fruit merchant's warehouse in the Rackhay near the stage door of the Theatre Royal. (The yard of the derelict St Nicholas School adjacent to the warehouse was still used by the Company for rehearsals of crowd scenes and stage fights as late as the early 1960s, notably for John Hale's productions of Romeo and Juliet starring the Canadian actor Paul Massie and Annette Crosbie, a former student of the School, and Rostand's Cyrano de Bergerac with Peter Wyngarde. Students from the Theatre School frequently played in these crowd scenes and fights.)[59]

The School continued in these premises until 1954 when royalties from the musical, Salad Days by Julian Slade and Dorothy Reynolds were given to the School towards the purchase and conversion of two large adjoining Victorian villas in Clifton, which remain their base today.[60]

In 1995, that donation was formally recognised when a new custom-built dance and movement studio in the School's back garden was named the Slade/Reynolds Studio.[61] The School provides comprehensive training courses for theatre, radio, film, and television professionals and its graduates are to be found in key positions as actors, directors, set designers, costumer designers, lighting designers and stage and company managers throughout the world.[62]

Among the most notable of the many distinguished actors on the School's list of alumni are the Academy Award winners Daniel Day-Lewis and Jeremy Irons.[63]

See Alumni of Bristol Old Vic Theatre School.

See also

P culture.svg Theatre portal


  1. ^ "Education Overview". Bristol Old Vic. Retrieved 23 February 2009. 
  2. ^ "Bristol Old Vic Development Plan – Summary of Draft v1.2". Bristol Old Vic. Retrieved 23 February 2009. 
  3. ^ "Bristol Old Vic Redevelopment Appeal – History". Retrieved 8 April 2009. 
  4. ^ a b Manser, José (1 December 1972). "Theatrical renaissance in Bristol". Design (288). 
  5. ^ a b c d e f "Theatre Royal (Bristol) – The Theatres Trust". Retrieved 8 April 2009. 
  6. ^ "The Theatre Royal – Buildings". British History Online. Retrieved 8 April 2009. "Finally there is some measure of comparative evidence to be found in the Theatre Royal, Bristol, built in 1766 after the model of Drury Lane as it then existed, somewhat altered but still retaining many original features dating from 1674. At Bristol, the two superimposed boxes on either side of the stage are flanked by giant Corinthian pilasters, canted away from the proscenium, and constructed with more than a mere suggestion of perspective in the lines of the box parapets and the architrave of the now incomplete entablature." 
  7. ^ a b Moody, Jane. "Theatrical Geographies and the Birth of a National Stage". pp. 4–6. Retrieved 19 April 2009. 
  8. ^ a b "England's Past for Everyone in Bristol : Theatre Royal (Trail Location 20)". Retrieved 19 April 2009. 
  9. ^ Moody, Jane. "Theatrical Geographies and the Birth of a National Stage". p. 10. Retrieved 19 April 2009. 
  10. ^ "A Passionate Sisterhood". Retrieved 8 April 2009. "But she did take Southey to the theatre to see Mrs Siddons...." 
  11. ^ "Bristol Theatre, Theatre Collection, University of Bristol". Retrieved 8 April 2009. 
  12. ^ "Bristol Theatre, Theatre Collection, University of Bristol". Retrieved 19 April 2009. 
  13. ^ "Peggy Ann Wood (1912–1998)". Retrieved 19 April 2009. 
  14. ^ "Bristol Old Vic, Theatre Collection, University of Bristol". Retrieved 19 April 2009. 
  15. ^ "Peter O'Toole". Retrieved 7 April 2009. "He joined the company at the Bristol Old Vic theater, making his first appearance in Major Barbara in 1956." 
  16. ^ "John Neville Biography (1925–)". Retrieved 7 April 2009. 
  17. ^ "Timothy West Biography (1934–)". Retrieved 7 April 2009. 
  18. ^ "Barbara Leigh-Hunt Biography (1935–)". Retrieved 7 April 2009. 
  19. ^ "Dorothy Tutin". Retrieved 7 April 2009. "Tutin made her stage debut in 1949 and the following year joined the Bristol Old Vic Company" 
  20. ^ a b "Bristol Old Vic Theatre Collection". University of Bristol. Retrieved 23 February 2009. 
  21. ^ "Julian Slade". London: Daily Telegraph. 22 June 2006. Retrieved 7 April 2009. 
  22. ^ a b Smith, A. C. H. (18 June 2007). "A tall story too Farr". The Stage. Retrieved 8 April 2009. 
  23. ^ O'Connor Morse, Toby (17 October 2001). "Frankenstein, Old Vic, Bristol – Reviews, Theatre & Dance – The Independent". London: Retrieved 8 April 2009. 
  24. ^ Bristol Old Vic Programmes (Bristol Old Vic). 1991-2002. Retrieved 25 February 2009. 
  25. ^ a b Christiansen, Rupert (13 November 2002). "Innovator ready for a fight – Telegraph". London: Retrieved 8 April 2009. 
  26. ^ a b Arendt, Paul (21 October 2004). "Farr says bye to Bristol". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 7 April 2009. 
  27. ^ "Theatre shuts for refurbishment". BBC NEWS Bristol. 10 May 2007. Retrieved 23 February 2009. 
  28. ^ Gardner, Lyn (11 May 2007). "Is Bristol's Old Vic about to go dark for good?". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 11 May 2007. 
  29. ^ Gardner, Lyn (4 July 2007). "So what went wrong at Bristol Old Vic?". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 2 December 2007. 
  30. ^ "ACE blamed for shock Bristol Old Vic closure". The Stage. 16 May 2007. Retrieved 2 December 2007. 
  31. ^ "Theatre stars demand Bristol Old Vic remains a producing company". The Stage. 30 July 2007. Retrieved 2 December 2007. 
  32. ^ "A tall story too Farr". The Stage. 18 June 2007. Retrieved 2 December 2007. 
  33. ^ "Bristol old vic aims for 2009 reopening". 
  34. ^ Toby O'Connor Morse (27 June 2001). "When Bristol's boat comes in". The Independent (London). Retrieved 28 September 2009. 
  35. ^ Lyn Gardner (7 October 2008). "The reopening of Bristol's Old Vic". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 5 January 2009. 
  36. ^ "Bristol Old Vic Development Plan – Summary of Draft v1.2". Bristol Old Vic. Retrieved 5 January 2009. 
  37. ^ Lyn Gardner (16 July 2008). "Bristol Old Vic: Complex plans affect the future". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 5 January 2009. 
  38. ^ "OVERVIEW AND SCRUTINY REFERRAL FORM: Arts Investment Funding". BCC. Retrieved 5 January 2009. 
  39. ^ a b "New directors at Bristol Old Vic". BBC NEWS Bristol. 25 February 2009. Retrieved 25 February 2009. 
  40. ^ Gardner, Lyn (25 February 2009). "Lyn Gardner: Tom Morris's role at Bristol Old Vic is crucial for all regional theatres". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 25 February 2009. 
  41. ^ Shenton, Mark (25 February 2009). "Mamma Mia!'s Johnson Pens New Play for Bristol Old Vic; New Artistic and Executive Directors Appointed". Playbill. Retrieved 28 February 2009. 
  42. ^ "Women to watch:Emma Stenning". 2011. Retrieved 21 July 2011. 
  43. ^ a b "Hamlet Tours, BOV". Retrieved 19 April 2009. 
  44. ^ "Man and Superman". Retrieved 19 April 2009. 
  45. ^ Kemp, David (1992). The Pleasures and Treasures of Britain. Dundurn Group. p. 24. ISBN 978-1550021592. Retrieved 20 April 2009. 
  46. ^ University of Bristol Theatre Collection. Bristol Old Vic Collection. Programmes from Bristol Old Vic tours (1946–2002).
  47. ^ Williamson, Audrey; Landstone, Charles (1957). The Bristol Old Vic – The First Ten Years. London: J Garnet Miller. pp. 30, 75. 
  48. ^ Williamson, Audrey; Landstone, Charles (1957). The Bristol Old Vic – The First Ten Years. London: J Garnet Miller. p. 78. 
  49. ^ Williamson, Audrey; Landstone, Charles (1957). The Bristol Old Vic – The First Ten Years. London: J Garnet Miller. pp. 85, 134–135. 
  50. ^ Williamson, Audrey; Landstone, Charles (1957). The Bristol Old Vic – The First Ten Years. London: J Garnet Miller. pp. 136, 171. 
  51. ^ "Bristol Old Vic – Mr. John Hale". The Times (The Times Digital Archive 1785–1985 [subscription required]): p. 13. 9 June 1959.!xrn_6_0_CS218848457&hst_1?sw_aep=uwesteng. Retrieved 23 April 2009. 
  52. ^ "Picator Adapts Tolstoy". The Times (The Times Digital Archive 1785–1985 [subscription required]): p. 13. 10 January 1962.!xrn_12_0_CS220946986&hst_1?sw_aep=uwesteng. Retrieved 23 April 2009. 
  53. ^ "Latest appointments". The Times (The Times Digital Archive 1785–1985 [subscription required]): p. 17. 21 May 1975.!xrn_2_0_CS286751925&hst_1?sw_aep=uwesteng. Retrieved 23 April 2009. 
  54. ^ "East 15 Acting School at the University of Essex, News New Director". East 15 Acting School. Retrieved 23 April 2009. 
  55. ^ Unwin, Paul (11 October 2008). "Obituary: Peter Copley". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 23 April 2009. 
  56. ^ University of Bristol Theatre Collection. Bristol Old Vic Collection. Bristol Old Vic brochures and papers. (1946–2002).
  57. ^ "Affiliate schools". Conservatoire for Dance and Drama. Retrieved 19 April 2009. 
  58. ^ "School of Creative Arts: About Us". UWE Bristol. Retrieved 19 April 2009. 
  59. ^ Brown, Shirley (1996). Bristol Old Vic Theatre School: the first 50 years (I ed.). Bristol: Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. pp. 20–25. ISBN 1-85459-395-1. 
  60. ^ Brown, Shirley (1996). Bristol Old Vic Theatre School: the first 50 years (I ed.). Bristol: Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. pp. 38–48. ISBN 1-85459-395-1. 
  61. ^ Brown, Shirley (1996). Bristol Old Vic Theatre School: the first 50 years (I ed.). Bristol: Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. p. 186. ISBN 1-85459-395-1. 
  62. ^ "Training". Archived from the original on 5 July 2008. Retrieved 19 April 2009. 
  63. ^ "Past Graduates". Archived from the original on 17 February 2008. Retrieved 19 April 2009. 

Further reading

  • B. Little &, P. Moro, The Story of the Theatre Royal Bristol, Trustees of the Theatre Royal, 1981
  • K. Barker, The Theatre Royal Bristol: The First Seventy Years, Bristol Branch of the Historical Association, 1961
  • A. Gomme, M. Jenner & B. Little, Bristol: an Architectural History, Lund Humphries, 1979
  • Walter Ison, The Georgian Buildings of Bristol, Kingsmead Press, 1952
  • Kathleen Barker, The Theatre Royal Bristol 1766–1966: Two Centuries of Stage History, The Society for Theatre Research, 1974 ISBN 0-85430-022-8
  • Audrey Williams and Charles Landstone, Bristol Old Vic—the First Ten Years, J. Garnet Miller Limited, 1957

External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Bristol Old Vic — [Bristol Old Vic] a British theatre company. It was formed in 1946 as a branch of the London ↑Old Vic and ↑based at the Theatre Royal, Bristol, Britain’s oldest theatre in continuous use …   Useful english dictionary

  • Bristol Old Vic — Ansicht des im Grade II* eingestuften Theatergebäudes Das Bristol Old Vic ist ein Theaterzentrum in der Innenstadt Bristols, England, zu dem unter anderem das 1766 gegründete Theatre Royal gehört. In den 1970er Jahren wurde auch ein Studiotheater …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Bristol Old Vic — 51° 27′ 07″ N 2° 35′ 40″ W / 51.4519, 2.59432 …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Bristol Old Vic — a British theatre company. It was formed in 1946 as a branch of the London Old Vic and has been based since then at the Theatre Royal, Bristol, Britain’s oldest theatre in continuous use. * * * …   Universalium

  • Bristol Old Vic Theatre School — Established 1946 Type Drama School Officer in charge Paul Rummer Chairman Ian Hoddell[1] …   Wikipedia

  • Bristol Old Vic Theatre School — Bristol Old Vic Le Bristol Old Vic de Bristol, dans le comté du Gloucestershire en Angleterre, est le plus ancien et théâtre royal du Royaume Uni. Il est une prestigieuse institution britannique dans le centre ville de Bristol, connu et reconnu… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Bristol Old Vic Theatre School — Das Bristol Old Vic ist eine Theaterkompanie im Zentrum der Stadt Bristol, England. Zu dem Theaterzentrum gehört unter anderem das 1766 gegründete Theatre Royal. In den 1970er Jahren wurde auch ein Studiotheater gegründet. Bristol Old Vic Theatre …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Old Vic — Infobox Theatre name = The Old Vic caption = The exterior of the Old Vic from the corner of Baylis Road and Waterloo Road address = The Cut city = Lambeth, London country = United Kingdom designation = Grade II* listed latitude = 51.5022… …   Wikipedia

  • Old Vic Company — Die Old Vic Company war das Ensemble des Old Vic Theatre zwischen 1929 und 1963. Nach einer etwas bewegten Geschichte der Spielstätte formte sich an ihr 1929 die Company unter der Leitung von Sir John Gielgud. 1946 wurde als Ableger das Bristol… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • The Old Vic — Not to be confused with The Vic Theatre, Young Vic, Bristol Old Vic, or New Vic. Coordinates: 51°30′08″N 0°06′35″W / 51.5022°N 0.1096°W …   Wikipedia