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The Old Vic Theatre, The Cut, London, SE1

Formerly - The Royal Coburg Theatre / Royal Victoria Theatre / Victoria Theatre / New Victoria Palace / Royal Victoria Hall and Coffee Tavern

The Old Vic during the run of 'The Playboy of the Western World' in October 2011 - Photo M.L.

Above - The Old Vic during the run of 'The Playboy of the Western World' in October 2011 - Photo M.L.

 

 

See a Seating Plan for this Theatre with non commercial and independent opinions on the best seats to book - From Seatplan.co.ukSee London's West End TheatresSee Theatreland MapsThe Old Vic Theatre originally opened as the Royal Coburg Theatre on the 11th of May 1818 with three different styles of entertainment in one night; a Harlequinade 'Midnight Revalry'; an Asiatic Ballet 'Alzora and Nerine'; and a Melodramatic Spectacle 'Trial by Battle or Heaven Defend the Right' by William Barrymore.

The Theatre was built on former marsh land known as Lambeth Marsh and took several years to construct due to lack of finance. The Foundation stone was laid by the Prince of Saxe Coburg and Princess Charlotte of Wales in September 1816, and building began that year, once a licence had been issued by the Surrey Quarter Sessions to the Prince and Princess of Coburg on behalf of a Mr. Jones, who had formerly run the Surrey Theatre nearby. Work was halted in early 1817 though when the money ran out and was only begun again in October when Joseph Glossop, who was a wealthy Merchant's son, provided furthur funding. Glossop took over the management of the Theatre and it finally opened on the 11th of may 1818.

 

The auditorium of the Old Vic from the Dress Circle during the run of 'The Winslow Boy' in April 2013 - Photo M.L. (Note the un-cantilevered auditorium and its supporting pillars.The Old Vic, as it is known today, was originally designed by Rudolph Cabanel and the final cost was £12,000. Some of the construction material for the Theatre is said to have been recycled from the former Savoy Palace in the Strand.

Right - The auditorium of the Old Vic from the Dress Circle during the run of 'The Winslow Boy' in April 2013 - Photo ML (Note the un-cantilevered auditorium and its supporting pillars.

A contemporary Theatre Programme advertised the new Royal Coburg Theatre in its pages, (reprinted in 'The Theatres Of London' by Mander and Mitchenson,) saying:- 'Royal Coburg Theatre, opposite Waterloo Bridge Road, Lambeth. The Nobility, Gentry and the Public are respectfully informed that the above new and splendid theatre, which has been erected according to the plans and designs and under the superintendence of the celebrated architect Mr. Cabanel, will open on Whit Monday, the 11th May 1818, under the immediate patronage of His Royal Highness of Saxe Coburg, with entirely new entertainments now preparing on a scale of magnitude and great expense.

 

The auditorium of the Old Vic from the Dress Circle during the run of 'The Winslow Boy' in April 2013 - Photo M.L. (Note the un-cantilevered auditorium and its supporting pillars.The audience part of the theatre will be lighted by a superb Central Lustre, while others of a most costly description will shed a beautiful and brilliant light over the whole house. The Decorations of the interior and Grand Panoramic Marine Saloon designed and executed by Mr. Serres (Marine Painter to His Majesty).

Left - The auditorium of the Old Vic from the Dress Circle during the run of 'The Winslow Boy' in April 2013 - Photo ML (Note the un-cantilevered auditorium and its supporting pillars.

The ceiling and proscenium designed by Mr. Cabanel and executed by Mr. Latilla and Assistants. The burnished gold and silver ornaments by Mr Collet and Assistants.

The company already engaged include many performers of High Celebrity from the London and principal Provincial Theatres. The scenery is entirely new and painted by the following celebrated artists: Messrs Serres, Latilla, Morris, Scruton, Stanfield, S. Morris and Assistants.' - From a contemporary Theatre Programme.

 

A Bill for the Royal Victoria Coffee Hall in 1884 with Arthur Lloyd appearing - Courtesy the British Library.The Royal Coburg was quickly a success and many West End Theatre actors performed there including Edmund Kean, who played there in 1831 for a fee of £50 a night, a huge sum at the time.

The Theatre was redecorated in 1833 and reopened on the 1st of July that year as the Royal Victoria Theatre with a production of 'Black-Ey'd Susan' which had first been produced at the Surrey Theatre in 1829. Paganini had his farewell performance at the Theatre on June the 17th 1834.

Left - A Bill for the Royal Victoria Coffee Hall in 1884 with Arthur Lloyd appearing - Courtesy the British Library.

In 1858 a false fire alarm caused a panic in the Theatre and sixteen people were killed trying to escape. This was followed by years of lean times until 1867 when the Theatre's fortunes increased for a while, but in 1871 the Theatre was sold off.

Images of the Royal Victorian Hall and Coffee Tavern - From The Graphic August 20th 1881 - Click to Enlarge.A partial reconstruction of the interior was made by the new owners, designed by Jethro Robinson, and the Theatre reopened as the New Victoria Palace, (not to be confused with the present Victoria Palace Theatre which opened much later in 1911, in Victoria), but this didn't help at all and the building was sold again in 1880.

A social reformer, Emma Cons, then bought the building and spent £3000 altering the auditorium and reopening it on the 27th of December 1880 as the Royal Victoria Hall and Coffee Tavern, (See sketch above right.) This new image for the Theatre restored its reputation as it was run on strict Temperance Lines.

A signed photograph of Peggy Ashcroft as Viola in 'Twelfth Night' at the Old Vic Theatre in 1954 - Courtesy Marianne Macdonald.Right - Images of the Royal Victorian Hall and Coffee Tavern - From The Graphic August 20th 1881 - Click to Enlarge.

Arthur Lloyd is known to have performed here in 1881, 1884, and 1892.

In 1900 the first Opera was performed at the Theatre, 'Bohemian Girl' and in 1912 Lilian Baylis, who was Emma Cons' niece, took over the management of the Theatre which was to become something of a passion for her for the rest of her life.

Baylis introduced early cinema, 'moving pictures', to the Theatre, along with regular Opera productions, and symphony concerts. In 1914 she decided, against popular opinion, to put on Shakespeare at the Theatre and was very successful. Between 1914 and 1923 she put on the whole of the first Folio of Shakespeare's plays, something that no other Theatre in the world had done before. It was during her time at the Old Vic that the National Theatre was born. Lilian Baylis died in 1937.

Left - A signed photograph of Peggy Ashcroft as Viola in 'Twelfth Night' at the Old Vic Theatre in 1954 - Courtesy Marianne Macdonald whose late mother collected autographed photos personally in the 1950s and 60s.

In may 1941 the Theatre was bombed and was seriously damaged causing it to close down completely for ten years, until in 1950 it was reconstructed and renovated by the architect Douglas W. Rountrett, and reopened on the 14th of November that year as the temporary and preliminary home of the National Theatre company. The National Theatre company took over the Old Vic completely in 1963 under the direction of Laurence Olivier, followed by Peter Hall in 1974, but left the Theatre for their new home on the South Bank in 1976, where I worked myself for many years.

 

The Old Vic during the run of 'A Moon For The Misbegotten' in October 2006. -  Photo M.L.

Above - The Old Vic during the run of 'A Moon For The Misbegotten' in October 2006.

 

The Old Vic during the run of 'A Moon For The Misbegotten' in October 2006 - Photo M.L.

Above -The Old Vic during the run of 'A Moon For The Misbegotten' in October 2006 - Photo ML

A 1970s Seating Plan for the Old Vic Theatre

Above - A 1970s Seating Plan for the Old Vic Theatre

 

The Old Vic Theatre during the run of 'The Winslow Boy in April 2013 - Photo M.L.Since 1976 the Old Vic has generally been a successful Theatre despite being some distance from the main hub of the West End across the river. In 2004 the Theatre became a producing house rather than a receiving one, and under the Artistic Direction of the Hollywood Actor Kevin Spacey, and Producer David Liddiment, this has become a very successful venture.

On the 1st of February 2013 Kevin Spacey announced that he hoped to raise £20 million for the Old Vic before stepping down as the artistic director of the Theatre in 2015. Spacey said, "I’m now planning to leave in 2015 and am determined to raise £20 million by then as an endowment fund to make the Theatre fit for the 21st century... We can then use the £20 million to give us £1 million a year income to help refurbish the Theatre."

This was a blow to the Old Vic's many regular patrons as his tenure at the Theatre has been such a success, but his evident love for the Theatre, and plans to help generate funds for its refurbishment before he leaves, should be applauded.

Right - The Old Vic Theatre during the run of 'The Winslow Boy in April 2013 - Photo M.L.

The Old Vic Theatre today has a seating capacity of 1,067, you may like to visit the Theatre's own website here.

 

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