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Hedda Gabbler: Bristol – Where Old Meets New

Posted on 02 August 2010 Written by


Everyone wants to know the trade secrets behind anti-aging; how to pull off being mistaken for a teenager past fifty. Jump back a matter of decades and most people would have told you that it’s all in the genes – what you inherit will determine how well you age but fast-forward to the present day and our savvy selves know full well that a facelift is all you need. We are the re-generation.

Something exciting is happening in my hometown. The Bristolian theatrical powerhouse that is the Old Vic has risen, phoenix-like, from the ashes and its geriatric former self has been traded in for a younger model – one that has a spring in its step and a glint in its eye.

The Bristol Old Vic Company is a ripe sixty-four years old and resides in a sixteenth century building that is noted for being the oldest theatre in the United Kingdom. As a Bristol-girl, the Old Vic played an important part in my formative theatre years but there was a time when I forsook it in favour of pastures new. The fusty interior, the repertory plays, the toffs in the foyer and the inflated ticket prices didn’t do it for me. I wanted experimental. I wanted Kane. I wanted In-Yer-Face. And I wanted it now and all for under the price of a Happy Meal.

Then something awful happened. The Bristol Old Vic announced its closure to allow time to find the funds for refurbishment and many, including myself, believed it may never open its doors again. Suddenly, I found myself pining for that Golden Age of Bristol Theatre in a way that only retrospect can let you truly appreciate that which you took for granted. This story has a happy ending however and the Old Vic was back in business by the beginning of 2009.

Nearly two years later, I have witnessed its continual development into the kind of theatre that really gets the creative juices flowing. It has a fantastically varied and exciting programme that balances in-house productions with touring and guest companies; newly appointed Artistic Director Tom Morris’ Far Away and Kneehigh’s upcoming Red Shoes are two such examples. It invests in new and emerging talent; hosting a ‘Writers Room’ forum and offering a wonderful scheme whereby empty rehearsal space is freely let. They hold regular events such as Mayfest and more recently Ferment, which provided a much needed opportunity for artists to present their works-in-progress in a performance context.

Furthermore, the theatre has a truly spectacular platform for young people in the arts. This weekend I had the pleasure of watching the Young Vic Company at the Bristol Harbourside Festival where a makeshift stage had been erected directly outside the theatre on King Street. Presenting three devised shows, the four hundred and fifty strong, 7-25 year old company members illustrated perfectly how the Old Vic had arrived, alive and kicking, into the twenty-first century. And better still, they’re not waiting for their audience to join them. As Young Company Director, Tid, commented on the al fresco setting: ‘If you’re not going to come in then we thought we’d bring the theatre out to you!’

Vicky Pollards exeunt – there are no ‘yeah-but-no-buts’ to be had. The Bristol Old Vic is back and it is so much better than before.

For more information please visit http://www.bristololdvic.org.uk/

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