Bristol Old Vic to celebrate 250th birthday in style

Bristol Old Vic, theatre
Bristol Old Vic Credit: jon Craig

Britain’s oldest theatre will be marking this major milestone with a weekend of amazing celebrations.

old vic, bristol, theatre
Bristol Old Vic Auditorium 1851 Credit: Phillip Vile

Bristol Old Vic, the oldest theatre in the English speaking world, is getting set to celebrate its 250th birthday over the late May bank holiday weekend.

To mark the extraordinary survival of this unique theatre and its 250-year love affair with the city that built it, a momentous weekend of celebrations are planned from 28-30 May.

The people of Bristol wanted a theatre so much they built it illegally in 1766, when you still technically needed a Royal Patent to build one – which they did not have.

Old Vic, theatre, bristol
Peter O’Toole as Hamlet with Wendy Williams as Ophelia Credit: Desmond Tripp University of Bristol Theatre Collection

The first productions had to be referred to as “concerts with a specimen of rhetoric” and the building was hidden away with no direct access to the street. To gain admission people would knock on the door of a house, belonging to one Mr Foote, then wander through his backyard to get in.

Since then its boards have been tread by some of the greatest stars of the stage, such as Sarah Siddons and Peter O’Toole.  The latter, who launched his career at Bristol Old Vic, always considered the theatre his spiritual home. Today, it remains one of the UK’s leading producing theatres and, following extensive refurbishment, one of the most pleasurable to visit.

bristol old vic, theatre
Bristol Old Vic in the 19th century

Festivities are set to throw a spotlight on the past, present and future of the playhouse and celebrate Bristol’s rich and diverse cultural heritage with highlights including behind the scenes with family friendly workshops, tours and events, s star-studded gala performance on 29 May, featuring Caroline Quentin, Sir Tony Robinson and Dame Siân Phillips, among others.

And, on Bank Holiday Monday, Bristol Old Vic’s birthday, King Street will taken over with theatre as with the city’s renowned creative talent takes to its cobbled streets to perform, culminating in a a state-of-the-art animation projected onto the front of the theatre.

For full details of the 250th birthday weekend programme.

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