Refurbished Bristol Old Vic opens tonight for first time
A newly refurbished Bristol Old Vic is to open its doors for the first time tonight, for the performance of Georgian comedy Wild Oats.
After being closed for 18 months and fighting off bankruptcy, the theatre is once again open for business, with its directors promising a dramatically enhanced experience for its audiences.
The £20 million project is around halfway through completion. So far the team has spent £12 million revamping the Georgian auditorium and back of house areas.
They aim to refurbish the front of house and the studio theatre in time for the Bristol Old Vic’s 250th anniversary in 2016.
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The space now boasts 528 seats designed by French seating specialists Quinette Gallay, whose other work includes Opéra Bastille, Théâtre Chaillot, Théâtre Molière and the French National Assembly.
Other highlights include a modern ventilation system, and replacement banisters and balcony fronts crafted on site by carpenters to replicate the originals.
In addition, two new rehearsal spaces with sprung floors and 5m high ceilings have been built on the top floor of the backstage area, which was abandoned unfinished during the 1970s refurbishment.
Executive Director Emma Stenning told This is Bristol: “For the audience coming into the theatre the most notable improvement will be the seating. On every level in the space there are brand new seats that are super comfortable.
“And in every area the sightlines – the view of the stage – have been improved. And there’s new air circulation.
“People will also notice that we have reinstated the four-stage Georgian-style space, so we are using the space as it was intended to be used. The architecture of the space is more celebrated.”
Reflecting on the project, Ms Stenning said: “This is a milestone for us in having the theatre space. It is the heart of the organisation, so it feels great to have it back.
“It feels now that we have momentum in the organisation. We have been making work in other spaces, but being able to make work back in our own theatre is a great feeling.”
The past few years have been turbulent for the Bristol Old Vic. In 2007 the theatre closed its doors to the public, and within months the Arts Council had withdrawn its funding.
Champions of the theatre from across Bristol and the South West came forward to defend it, and soon a campaign to save the Old Vic was under way. In 2009 the theatre reopened, with Emma Stenning and Tom Morris at the helm.
The Arts Council confirmed its reinvestment, and the theatre set about adopting a new business model to secure its future.
Architect Andrzej Blonski was commissioned to oversee its refurbishment, and a team of historians was appointed to advise and discover the unique, hidden aspects of the space.
Some 60 per cent of the funding for the refurbishment has come from Arts Council England, bolstered by a major contribution from Bristol City Council.
There have also been substantial grants from a number of trusts, and donations from prominent Bristolians such as Andrew Nisbet and Vanessa Stevenson.
In addition, more than two thousand individuals made financial contributions to the capital appeal.
While closed for refurbishment Bristol Old Vic continued to trade from the untouched parts of the building and across the city, smashing box office records along the way.
Built in 1766, the Grade I listed Georgian auditorium is the oldest working theatre in the country.
Rescued from conversion to a banana-ripening factory in 1943, Bristol’s Theatre was the first subsidised regional repertory theatre, housing a company of actors from the Old Vic Theatre in London.
The theatre suffered considerable damage during its refurbishment in the 1970s, but the most recent building works have revealed details of its original design which have become the inspiration for the refurbishment.
The Old Vic has won the praise of a long list of stars - Patrick Stewart called it “the most beautiful theatre,” while Richard Eyre said: “Everybody knows that Bristol Old Vic is old, rare and beautiful. What they might not know is that it’s one of the best places in the world for actors, directors and writers to put on plays and for audiences to see them.”
To find out more, visit the Bristol Old Vic website.