Europe’s oldest continuously-working theatre is opening up a new chapter in its illustrious history when it throws open its brand new doors this autumn, following a multi-million-pound transformation.
The world-famous Bristol Old Vic, founded over 250 years ago in 1766 and the place where Daniel Day Lewis, Kwame Kwei-Armah and Jeremy Irons once honed their craft, has a unique place in British theatre history.
From this November, as well as offering inspiring and though-provoking theatre productions, it will become a unique heritage attraction and a major social hub for the city.
Its fascinating history will be opened to the public for the first time, through exhibitions, interactive experiences, tours and workshops, shining a light on the amazing stories of a theatre that has been entertaining Bristol for over quarter of a millennium.
Highlights include an interactive experience exploring the history of the creation of sound in the theatre, including a chance to see the 18th century thunder run, an ancient contraption that simulates the sound of thunder above the auditorium. Visitors will also be able to view the changing face of the foyer over the centuries via an augmented reality app, whilst the rich history of the theatre will be charted through artistic timelines.
After a two-year £13.5m redevelopment, the theatre based on the historic cobbled King Street in Bristol will also become a go-to social destination for locals and visitors alike.
A full-height glass-fronted atrium foyer by Britain’s leading theatre architects Haworth Tompkins will provide a bright welcoming atmosphere and will showcase the newly-uncovered original theatre wall, previously hidden from public gaze. Visitors can enjoy fabulous food and drink all day and into the evening, in the theatre’s new 1766 Bar & Kitchen, including cocktails, craft ales and locally roasted coffee. The changing seasonal menus will feature ingredients from some of the finest producers in the South West.
A new flexible studio theatre space for a range of productions will complement the 18th century main auditorium, itself completely renovated in 2012. Bristol Old Vic’s autumn season kicks off with the first stage adaptation of Joe Simpson’s best-selling memoir Touching the Void, which charts his struggle for survival in the Peruvian Andes and is directed by Tom Morris. A brand new production of Twelfth Night will bring a fresh energy to Shakespeare’s mischievous story of identity, gender and love in all its forms in October, whilst the year will culminate with the greatest comedy of change in English literature, A Christmas Carol.
Many theatre ‘greats’ found their feet at Bristol Old Vic – from David Garrick to Sarah Siddons to Peter O’Toole, who considered it to be ‘the loveliest theatre in the world’. Other big names to have trodden the boards at the theatre include Timothy West, Daniel Day-Lewis, Brian Blessed, Prunella Scales, Caroline Quentin, Patrick Stewart and Judi Dench.
The ten-year £25 million project to rescue and safeguard the future of this historical and cultural gem has been led by artistic director Tom Morris (The Grinning Man, War Horse, Swallows & Amazons) and chief executive Emma Stenning. The duo worked together previously at Battersea Arts Centre and were appointed at the helm of Bristol Old Vic in 2009 after the theatre ran into financial difficulties.
Emma Stenning, chief executive of Bristol Old Vic, which has remained open throughout the redevelopment, said: “When the theatre was first built in 1766, it was a space where people from every walk of life would congregate to be inspired and entertained. Over 250 years, as fashions have changed and the theatre has become increasingly hidden from public view, Bristol Old Vic may sometimes have seemed to only belong to the privileged few.
“With this transformation, we are returning the theatre to its 1766 origins as a place for all and a new welcoming space where everyone can feel at home. The theatre will play a new role in bringing communities together, offering people a place to come together and socialise, as well as providing visitors with the chance to delve into its fascinating history through our new unique heritage experience.”