One of the most grisly ghosts of theatre, a woman clutching her blood-soaked hands to her chest, has been spotted at the Old Vic…let’s hope it was fake blood on an actress.
Kevin Spacey has been the artistic director of the Old Vic since 2004, starring in Richard II, The Philadelphia Story, Speed-the-Plow, Inherit the Wind and Richard III among others at the venue.
Some of the building material for the theatre came from the Savoy Palace, which was demolished when the Waterloo Bridge was being built.
The Old Vic was home to the National Theatre in the years 1963 to 1976 before moving to its current South Bank home.
The nickname ‘The Old Vic’ was coined as early as 1880, when the theatre was still officially known as ‘The Royal Victoria Hall and Coffee Tavern’.
Shakespeare’s complete first folio (a comprehensive collection of 36 of his comedies, histories and tragedies) has been performed twice fully in Old Vic history.
The first rock concert ever held at the Old Vic was by a progressive rock group called Gryphon, who had provided music for a production of The Tempest at the theatre.
Initially dubbed ‘The Royal Coburg Theatre’ thanks to a much needed cash boost from the Saxe Coburg Gotha royal family, the Old Vic was built to provide entertainment for the “nobility and gentry”. This was clear from its first night performances in 1818 – an assortment of melodrama, Asiatic ballet and a ‘harlequinade’. Not your average night out.
Over the next 70 years, it changed its name no less than four times and, despite an endorsement from Dickens declaring it “always fashionable”, it closed down with every name change. It was only in 1884 as ‘The Royal Victoria Hall and Coffee Tavern’ that the Old Vic began to be respected as a proper theatre, and even more so with its popular seasons of Shakespeare plays.
The theatre saw serious damage during the Second World War, and the Old Vic Company could only return to their rebuilt home in 1950. But it was the 1963 formation of the National Theatre company that changed everything. It signalled a takeover of the Old Vic and its performers, until 1976 when they moved to their own building in the National Theatre.
With no permanent company in house, rumours of replacing the Old Vic with a pub or lap dancing club revved up enough support to block the move with the Old Vic Theatre Trust. The project worked, and it marked the beginning of a remarkable renaissance for the Old Vic. The Hollywood actor Kevin Spacey became artistic director of the newly established Old Vic production company and raised the theatre’s profile enormously. He has since starred in and directed a significant number of its plays.