Excitement at Bristol Old Vic as next phase of £19M redevelopment announced
CANNONBALLS in the rafters and drinks from a 200-year-old bar are just some of the things to look forward to in the next phase of the Bristol Old Vic's £19-million redevelopment.
More than 100 people packed into the King Street theatre to hear directors Tom Morris and Emma Stenning reveal their plans for the venue last night.
Mr Morris announced the award of a £6.1m grant from Arts Council England, which will go towards the second and third of four phases of work at the oldest working theatre in the country.
Two new performance spaces will be created using large areas behind the existing stage, called the side stage and paintshop.
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New retractable seating will allow an audience to view performances from the side of the stage, effectively increasing capacity by 250.
Seating in the existing auditorium will be improved with a new layout that will enhance views, capacity and comfort.
A number of original features will be brought back into use, including the disused "1800 bar" from the gallery.
A system of wooden channels in the rafters, along which cannonballs were once rolled to recreate the sound of thunder in plays such as The Tempest, will also be restored.
A second rehearsal room will be added, with improvements to the dressing rooms and disabled access.
Preliminary work on phases two and three is set to start in the autumn, with the main alterations beginning in February 2011 with completion by Easter 2012.
During next year the Old Vic aims to continue a full programme of performances using a variety of alternative locations within the building to ensure it does not have to close as each area is refurbished.
Called the "12 projects of Bristol", the 2011 programme will also see collaborations with other venues across the city.
The first project will be this year's Christmas production.
A musical adaptation of the classic novel Swallows and Amazons, it will feature music by Neil Hannon of the pop group The Divine Comedy.
Phases two and three will cost £13.2m, of which the theatre has so far raised £10.8m, including the £6.1m Arts Council grant, £3.4m from charitable trusts and £1m from Bristol City Council, with the rest of the current total raised by the public.
Ms Stenning hopes to have the rest of the money by the end of the year, with much of it coming from grants.
A public appeal will also be launched to help fund these two phases and the final phase four.
Detailed plans of the last phase are due to be revealed during the summer. The scheme is expected to cost about £6m and involve work on the front of house.
Mr Morris told the audience that research into the history of the Grade I-listed building had revealed a number of insights.
He said: "Coopers Hall was built in 1744, older than our theatre, and was turned into the foyer in 1970.
"Depending on which historian you believe, the theatre was built away from the street, either because you weren't allowed to stage plays in Bristol as they were dangerous and subversive, or because that was the plot of land that was available.
"The defining characteristic of our redevelopment is flexibility.
"We want to be able to use our beautiful building to its maximum capacity, responding to artists' imaginations and giving audiences thrilling experiences."