The Old Vic - The Cut, London, UK
Posted by: Groundspeak Premium Member Master Mariner
N 51° 30.136 W 000° 06.579
30U E 700598 N 5709642
Quick Description: The Old Vic theatre is located on the south east side of The Cut at the junction with Waterloo Road. Although the name has changed, it has always been used for entertainment.
Location: London, United Kingdom
Date Posted: 1/31/2015 9:23:27 AM
Waymark Code: WMNAD1
Published By: Groundspeak Premium Member lumbricus
Views: 0

Long Description:

The book, "The Old Vic: The Story of a Great Theatre from Kean to Olivier to Spacey" by Terry Coleman, is a lengthy volume at just under 300 pages. The Amazon website tells us:

The Old Vic, one of the world's great theatres, opened in 1818 with rowdy melodrama and continued with Edmund Kean in Richard III howled down by the audience. One impresario, among the first of thirteen to go bankrupt there, fled to Milan and ran La Scala. In 1848 a chorus girl tried to murder the leading lady. In 1870 the Vic became a music hall, then a temperance tavern and, from 1912, under Lilian Baylis, both an opera house and the home of Shakespeare. By the 1930s great actors were happy to go there for a pittance - John Gielgud, Charles Laughton, Peggy Ashcroft, and Laurence Olivier. The Vic considered itself a national theatre in all but name.

After the second world war the Royal Ballet and the English National Opera both sprang from the Vic, and the National Theatre, at last established in 1963 under Olivier, made its first home there. In 1980 the Vic was saved from becoming a bingo hall by a generous Toronto businessman. Since 2004 Kevin Spacey, Hollywood actor and the winner of two Oscars, has led a new company there, and toured the world.

The Visit London website tells us:

The Old Vic is one of the best-known and best-loved theatres in the world.

It's name is synonymous with the greatest acting talent that Britain has ever produced from Laurence Olivier, Peggy Ashcroft, John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson to Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Albert Finney, and Peter O’Toole. This iconic 192-year-old building has a rich history of great performances and The Old Vic Theatre Company under the artistic leadership of Kevin Spacey continues to attract the best creative talent from the UK and all over the world to tread its famous boards.

The Old Vic is Grade II* listed with the entry at the English Heritage website telling us:

Built in 1816-18, architect Rudolph Cabanel of Aachen. Remodelled 1871 by J T Robinson; in 1880 and 1902 by Elijah Hoole as the Royal Victoria Coffee Music Hall for Emma Cons; in 1922-3 and 1927-9 by Frank Matcham and Company (F G M Chancellor); in 1933-8 by F Green and Co; in 1950 by Pierre Sonrel; in 1960 by Sean Kenny; major restoration in 1983 by Renton, Howard, Wood and Levine.

Brick, with rendered facade to The Cut remodelled in 1983 with open pediment based on c.1818 engraving, of three storeys and five bays with projecting five-bay colonnade. Elevation to Waterloo Road of eleven bays is clearly that of 1818 with giant order of brick pilasters incorporating rendered roundels under contrasting brick arcading, and with blocked first-floor windows. At stage end large round-headed openings created in the late C19 when the building was adapted for shared use with Morley College. Memorial plaque to Emma Cons on north-west angle. Webber Street elevation similar but with projecting four-bay front with small paned windows housing dressing rooms. Asphalted roof with flats of 1927-8, projecting `haystack' over stage.

The interior is remarkable as Robinson's horseshoe balconies on iron columns essentially survive, with convex moulded fronts, cartouches and much moulded decoration; although the boxes are restorations by RHWL after the originals were removed by Frank Matcham and Co. By RHWL, too, is the proscenium arch, after this was remodelled in 1950 and 1960. The ceiling, with its thick leaf decoration concealing ventilation ducts, is probably by Robinson, while above it Cabanel's complex system of timber roof trusses survives. The front of house was remodelled to a much simplified plan by RHWL in 1983 so that all parts of the theatre can be reached from a common entrance.

Stage with flytower, fly floors and grid, with carpenters' bay to rear; above which are two rooms shown on old plans as the `museum' and thought to have been the `library' of Morley College opened here in 1894. These are top-lit, with timber truss roofs.

The Old Vic is one of the oldest theatres to survive in England. The auditorium is recognisably that of J T Robinson, one of the first theatre architects, first consultant architect to the Lord Chamberlain and Frank Matcham's father-in-law. A pre-1890s theatre in this condition is an exceptional rarity in England, and this with the Theatre Royal, Margate, is his principal surviving work. The Old Vic is significant too as the progenitor of the modern subsidised theatre, since it was acquired in 1879-80 by Emma Cons, first woman Alderman of the London County Council, social reformer and principal of the coffee tavern movement. She endeavoured to bring `a purified entertainment' to the working and lower middle classes, a policy expanded after 1912 by her niece Lilian Baylis, who introduced opera, operetta and - most successfully - Shakespeare to a wider audience. Her work was continued in the 1930s by Tyrone Guthrie and in 1963 it became the first home of the National Theatre Company under Laurence Olivier.

The historical significance of the Old Vic as a leading centre of opera, ballet and serious theatre in the twentieth century is exceptional in English theatre, though it is in recognition of its architectural quality and rarity that it is listed in a high grade.

The Theatres Trust website tells us:

The Old Vic occupies a prominent site at the crossing of Waterloo Road, The Cut and Bayliss Road. The present façe is a recreation by RHWL, based on early nineteenth century views, with some discreet amendments and simplified moulding profiles. It is stuccoed in five bays, three storeys high, crowned by a broken pediment with a coat of arms at the centre. Simple entrance canopy with iron columns. Major parts of the roof and the external brick shell are largely of the first period of the building, as is the massive internal timber construction of the roof. The brick flank walls, relieved by a blind arcaded treatment of tall round-arched recesses are as seen in the earliest views of the theatre. The north flank has been less interfered with than the south.

The remodelling of the auditorium in 1871 by Jethro T Robinson produced one of that architect’s most satisfying interiors and is today one of only two surviving examples of his work (Margate Theatre Royal is the other). From the 1930s to the 1960s the Robinson auditorium suffered a series of radical attacks in the name of production fashion. By the 1980s the proscenium architecture together with the adjoining boxes had been obliterated. The RHWL works of 1983 for Ed Mirvish, however, restored the Robinson auditorium faithfully, being amended only to meet modern seating and lighting requirements, the latter being handled with particular sensitivity. This is an auditorium of lyric beauty. The ceiling, although completely remodelled by Robinson, still has some suggestion of Cabanel’s earlier design. The two vertically stacked lyre-shaped balconies are supported on slender cast-iron columns, the top tier having musical trophies in cartouches. The restored boxes (which now have removable fronts) are in three tiers of two on either side of a basket-arched proscenium framed by two rope-twist mouldings. The arch is slightly uncomfortable at the springing, the drapes look a mite thin and the safety curtain is dull, but the proscenium coat of arms, decked with venerably dusty flags puts the seal on a wonderfully satisfying whole. RHWL also remodelled the front of house spaces in characteristic manner, with a single staircase to give access to all levels.

Historically, as well as architecturally, the Vic is one of London’s most precious theatrical possessions. Built as a ‘minor’ for melodrama and pantomime, it was important in the history and development of popular theatre. An attempt to convert it to a music hall in 1870 (architect J H Rowley) was abortive, but it was subsequently converted by the Coffee Palace Association and reopened as the Royal Victoria Coffee Music Hall under Emma Cons in 1880. It became world famous under Cons and Lilian Baylis.

The management of the Vic and the history of its productions have formed the subject of innumerable books and papers, but there has never been a completely authoritative architectural study. The Survey of London vol XXIII offers little more than a sketch. Like the Haymarket, the Vic deserves meticulous research, close physical investigation and interpretive recording. The record since 1997 has, to an extent, been a replay of some of the theatre’s most uncertain phases in both distant and recent past. Ed Mirvish’s decision to cut his losses and sell in 1997 led to fears that high bids might be received from commercial concerns whose overriding interest would be in the permanent cessation of theatre use. In the event, the upgrading of the building to II* in 1998 and the publicity surrounding the event, seems to have deterred such bidders and this, coupled with Mirvish’s own concern for the future of the Vic, resulted in sale to a newly formed charitable company.

Proposals under discussion in 2005 revealed (once again) production pressure for changes to Robinson’s design in the box and forestage area. The coat of arms over the proscenium (referred to above)seems already to have been removed, probably in the late 1980s or early 1990s.

A Bing bird's eye view of the Old Vic can be seen here.


Author(s): Terry Coleman

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