Bristol Old Vic announces 250th anniversary programme

New productions include ultimate 20th century classic Long Day's Journey Into Night directed by Richard Eyre, starring Jeremy Irons and Lesley Manville


Jeremy Irons, Lesley Manville and Sir Richard Eyre launching Long Day's Journey Into Night

Jeremy Irons, Lesley Manville and Sir Richard Eyre launching Long Day's Journey Into Night


  • Today (Sept 23) marks the start of the 250-day countdown to Bristol Old Vic's milestone anniversary in 2016
  • Unique milestone to be marked by a year-round programme of productions from each of the four centuries of theatre's operation, together with Shakespeare play to mark 400th anniversary of his death
  • Birthday to be celebrated with an open-house weekend, paying tribute to people of the city who built theatre in 1766 and who have fought for its ongoing survival through ever since
  • 250th anniversary also heralds final stage in the redevelopment of Britain's oldest theatre, whose matchless auditorium was refurbished to wide acclaim in 2012


"The most beautiful theatre in England" - Daniel Day Lewis


"The most exquisitely designed theatre in Europe" - David Garrick


"The loveliest theatre in the world" - Peter O'Toole


Bristol Old Vic, the UK's oldest working theatre, is revealing the first details of its 250th anniversary programme today, as the 250-day countdown begins to this important milestone and unique moment in British theatre history.


To celebrate the past 250 years of Bristol Old Vic's history and its vision for the future, the special anniversary programme will feature five world-class productions - one from each century of the theatre's life - as well as a production of a Shakespeare play to mark the 400th anniversary of his death.


Tom Morris, artistic director at Bristol Old Vic, said: "With the average lifespan of an 18th century theatre being just 17 years, 2016 represents a momentous year for the British theatre world and Bristol Old Vic. Since it first opened, this historic playhouse has been celebrated for its remarkable design and as a place where countless artists, from Sarah Siddons and Henry Irving, to Peter O'Toole, Daniel Day Lewis, Miranda Richardson and Jeremy Irons, have found their voices. Its survival is a result of extreme good fortune and its amazing capacity to inspire loyalty in its artists, staff and public. This unique anniversary will celebrate the passion of those people over the last 250 years and the visions we might bring to the next 250.


"Our artistic programme will include work from Europe, the US and from Bristol, new writing, classic text, devised work and musical theatre; it will celebrate the diversity, innovation and talent that has shaped Bristol Old Vic into the globally-renowned theatrical institution that it is today; a place where the future potential of theatre is thrashed out and discovered."


The 20th Century will be celebrated through Richard Eyre's staging of the classic Long Day's Journey Into Night, starring British actors Jeremy Irons and Lesley Manville. This is the first time that the acclaimed British film, theatre, television and opera director has directed a production at Bristol Old Vic, the place which inspired him as a schoolboy to work in theatre after seeing Peter O'Toole play Hamlet in 1957.


Speaking about the production, Richard Eyre said: "The first play I ever saw - at the age of 15 - was at Bristol Old Vic. That evening ignited a lifetime's attraction to theatre. To be back here over 50 years later to direct a play during the 250th anniversary is a real thrill. To direct Long Day's Journey Into Night - one of the greatest (and saddest) plays ever written - is a real privilege."


A thread of 21st century work running throughout the year will be launched with the return of Pink Mist, the critically acclaimed Bristol Old Vic production written by poet Owen Sheers, and continues with a new co-production with Kneehigh in June and a major new musical in November, details of which will be announced later in the year.


The 19th Century is represented by the return of Bristol Old Vic's smash hit Jane Eyre and the opening of the theatre in 1766 will be celebrated in a major revival of an 18th Century classic, with further announcements to follow.


2016 also marks the 70th anniversary of the Bristol Old Vic Theatre Company, the first experiment in subsidised theatre outside London, and the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, which was founded at the theatre in the same year. Shakespeare will be celebrated in a bold, summer collaboration with Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, details of which are to be announced soon.


The anniversary programme will also feature work by Bristol Old Vic's pioneering artist development programme, Bristol Ferment; its award-winning Young Company; Mayfest, and the many other pioneering arts organisations which have won such a powerful creative reputation for the city in recent years.


The birthday itself will centre on a weekend of celebration over the May Bank Holiday (May 28-30, 2016), including a one-off special performance, the launch of a new digital heritage project and opportunities for community and amateur groups to perform on the Bristol Old Vic stage. The festivities will culminate in a street festival on the birthday itself, May 30.


New beginnings in 2016


Bristol Old Vic is currently gearing up for its next phase of redevelopment works, as well as preparing to transform itself into a major heritage destination. This phase of work will connect 250 years of theatrical heritage, represented both by Bristol Old Vic's exquisite 18th century architecture and its extraordinary archive. The results will be a new visitor attraction, animating the organisation's unique story like never before.


Fundraising for the next phase of redevelopment works is going well and building is set to start in summer 2016. This will transform the front of house spaces, create a new studio theatre, modern bar and restaurant facilities. The works will also see the return of the Grade 1 listed Coopers' Hall to its original 18th century use as a ‘Grand Hall'. The redevelopment will open up new streams of income for Bristol Old Vic, from heritage tours, to catering and events spaces, all of which will help safeguard the financial future of this historical and cultural gem.


Emma Stenning, chief executive of Bristol Old Vic, said: "We have devised a special programme for the year to mark a milestone that is important not just for Bristol Old Vic but for the city of Bristol and the wider theatrical community. It will include theatre of the highest calibre, exciting events and activities to engage the public in our celebrations, as well as collaborations with the community to build on our ethos of enabling access for all to this historic and beautiful theatre. It will also be exciting to see our redevelopment plans taking shape and the theatre transformed into a true heritage offer, heralding a new era for the playhouse and the city of Bristol."  


Dame Liz Forgan, chair of Bristol Old Vic Trustees said: "The Bristol Old Vic Trustees and I are tremendously excited about reaching this major moment in the history of UK theatre. The programme of work during the year and the redevelopment works will act as a catalyst for the future success of this organisation."


Further 250th anniversary productions will be revealed in November 2015.

Bristol Old Vic dates:

Jane Eyre                     21 Jan - 6 Feb 2016 (already on general sale)
Pink Mist                      16 Feb - 5 Mar 2016 (on general sale Wed 30 Sep)
Long Day's Journey..     23 Mar - 23 Apr 2016 (on general sale Wed 30 Sep)
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