Old Vic

Definition

Theater

  • A famous London theater, situated south of Waterloo bridge.It opened in 1818 as the Royal Coburg Theatre and became somethingof a conversation piece because of its looking-glass curtain. In 1833the theater was refurbished and renamed the Royal Victoria Theatre.It soon began to acquire a reputation for rowdiness, and in 1858 abogus fire alarm in the gallery resulted in several playgoers beingtrampled to death. The name changed in 1871 to the New Victoria Palaceand in 1880 to the Royal Victoria Hall and Coffee Tavern, when thesocial reformer Emma Cons offered it as "a cheap and decentplace of amusement on strict temperance lines", reversing itsearlier reputation as a disreputable blood tub.On Cons's death in 1912 her niece Lilian Baylis assumed control andintroduced performances of Shakespeare's plays at reasonable prices.She would devote nearly 40 years of her life to the Old Vic (whosecircles are named in her honour). In 1923 it became the first theateranywhere to have produced all the plays in the First Folio.

    Ballet arrived in 1931 with the first performance of the Vic-WellsBallet (which later became the Royal Ballet) under Ninette de Valois.Two years later the opera and ballet programmes transferred to theSadler's Wells Theatre (which Baylis had rebuilt) while dramaremained at the Old Vic. In the 1930s the remarkably talented companyincluded Gielgud, Olivier, and Richardson. The Old Vic was severelydamaged during the Blitz and despite the survival of the auditoriumremained closed from 1941 until 1950.

    In 1963 the Old Vic company disbanded and the theater becamea temporary home for Olivier's National Theatre company (see RoyalNational Theatre), which arrived with an initial offeringof Hamlet, starring Peter O'Toole. In 1976 the National Theatrecompany moved to the South Bank and a new Old Vic Company was formedfrom the Prospect Company. This collapsed, however, following disasterssuch as Peter O'Toole's notorious Macbeth (1980). In 1981 publicsubsidy was withdrawn, resulting in the Old Vic's closure until 1983.Then, after a £2.5 million renovation by the new owner, the Canadianentrepreneur 'Honest' Ed Mirvish, the theater reopened with the TimRice musical Blondel. A 1991 production of Hammerstein's CarmenJones won five major awards, including the 1992 Laurence OlivierAward for Best Musical. From late 1996 Sir Peter Hall directed a seasonof plays at the theater with his own informal ensemble. However, continuingheavy losses led Mervish to sell the theater to a consortium of backersin 1998. It reopened its doors in 2004, with the Hollywood actor KevinSpacey in the role of artistic director. Subsequent productions have included Aladdin (2004), with Ian McKellen as Widow Twankey, a revival of Osborne's The Entertainer (2007), starring RobertLindsay, and John Guare's Six Degrees of Separation (2010).

    In 2009 Spacey helped to launch the Bridge Project, a transatlantic collaboration between the Old Vic, the Brooklyn Academy of Music, and the director Sam Mendes. Plays produced at the theater under the auspices of the Project include a 2009 double bill of Three Sistersand The Winter's Tale, both starring Simon Russell Beale.

    see also Young Vic.

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