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The Old Vic
The Cut
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The Old Vic History


Theatre starts life as the Royal Coburg, promising the nobility and the gentry 'entirely new entertainment... on a scale of magnitude and great expense'. Opening night includes a melodrama, an Asiatic ballet and a harlequinade.


The great tragedian Edmund Kean plays Richard III, Othello, Macbeth and King Lear during a six-night engagement. He tells a rowdy audience: 'In my life I have never acted to such a set of ignorant, unmitigated brutes as I have before me'.


Theatre re-opens, 'for the encouragement of Native Dramatic Talent', as The Royal Victoria, in honour of Princess (later Queen) Victoria.


Charles Kingsley describes the theatre as 'a licensed pit of darkness, a trap of temptation, profligacy and ruin'. Dickens writes: 'Whatever changes of fashion the drama knows elsewhere, it is always fashionable in the New Cut.'


Theatre re-opens as The New Victoria. During the decade it's twice put up for sale by auction, before closing down.


Emma Cons, a leading Victorian social reformer, re-opens it as The Royal Victoria Coffee and Music Hall, 'a cheap and decent place of amusement on strict temperance lines'. The word 'theatre' is dropped because of its 'impure associations'.


The philanthropist Samuel Morley saves it from closure. Re-christened The Royal Victoria Hall and Coffee Tavern.


Morley Memorial College, offering evening classes for working men and women, opens backstage. Concerts of opera excerpts begin. Bernard Shaw an occasional member of the orchestra: 'If the masses were not improved it was not my fault.'


Emma Cons' niece Lilian Baylis, aged 23, appointed acting manager.


Emma Cons dies. Baylis takes over as manager and lessee, and obtains a theatre licence from the Lord Chamberlain. Opera programme begins.


Shakespeare productions staged for the first time, under director Ben Greet.


Sybil Thorndike leads company during war years. Productions continue during Zeppelin and bombing raids. Baylis: 'What's a raid when my curtain's up!'


Royal centenary gala. Baylis to Queen Mary: 'Your dear husband's picture isn't as big as Aunt Emmie's, but then he hasn't done so much for The Old Vic.'


Under director Robert Atkins all 36 Shakespeare plays in the First Folio are performed.


Edith Evans becomes first West End star to join the company, after having been turned down six years earlier. Baylis: 'She didn't look the leading type. I was a fool.'


John Gielgud's Hamlet and Richard II establish him as exciting new Shakespearean star. 'The Old Vic is pre-eminently the place for artistic experiment, even if some eggshells of prejudice have to be smashed in the process.'


Ralph Richardson joins the company, to play Caliban, Sir Toby Belch, Prince Hal.


Sadler's Wells opens as Baylis' second theatre. The Old Vic Sadler's Wells Ballet Company is formed, led by Ninette de Valois. The two theatres alternate drama, opera and ballet for four years, until opera and ballet move to Sadler's Wells.


Peggy Ashcroft joins the company to play Rosalind, Portia, Juliet and Miranda.


Tyrone Guthrie's first season as director. Flora Robson, Charles Laughton and other stars brought in. Baylis to Laughton: 'I'm sure that one day you may be quite a good Macbeth.'


Michael Redgrave, Alec Guinness and Laurence Olivier join the company for the first time. Guthrie appointed permanent director.


Lilian Baylis dies as Macbeth is about to open.


John Gielgud leads a season that includes King Lear, directed by Harley Granville-Barker, and The Tempest, directed by George Devine. Because of air-raids, the headquarters are moved to Burnley. Several companies tour Shakespeare to mining and other industrial areas, subsidised by the newly formed Council for the Encouragement of Music and the Arts, the forerunner of the Arts Council.


Theatre badly damaged by bombs.


Ralph Richardson, Laurence Olivier and John Burrell lead a new company at the New Theatre (now the Albery), its temporary home. Successful productions feature Olivier as Richard III and Oedipus, Richardson as Peer Gynt and Falstaff.


Damaged auditorium used by newly established Old Vic School, run by director Michel Saint-Denis.


Theatre re-opens after repairs and renovations with a performance of Twelfth Night.


Under director Michael Benthall the complete First Folio is staged for a second time, beginning with Richard Burton as Hamlet.


Judi Dench joins for the first of four seasons. Her parts include Ophelia, Hermia, and Juliet in Franco Zeffirelli's production of Romeo and Juliet.


Olivier appointed first director of the National Theatre. Old Vic governors agree to offer the theatre as its temporary home, initially for five years.


The Old Vic company disbands. The National opens with Hamlet, starring Peter O'Toole. Over the next 13 years company regulars include Albert Finney, Anthony Hopkins, Geraldine McEwan, Joan Plowright and Maggie Smith.


Money from recent surpluses is used to finance the Young Vic, which serves the National as a studio theatre for three years, after which it becomes a separate company.


Olivier's last stage performance, in Trevor Griffiths' The Party. He resigns as director of the National, and is succeeded by Peter Hall. His productions include John Gabriel Borkman with Richardson, Ashcroft and Wendy Hiller, No Man's Land with Richardson and Gielgud, and Hamlet with Albert Finney.


The National's last performance before moving to the South Bank is Tribute to the Lady. Peggy Ashcroft plays Baylis, Gielgud and Richardson are among those taking part, Redgrave and Thorndike are in the audience. In her curtain speech Ashcroft repeats Baylis' threat to come back and haunt The Old Vic should her and her aunt Emma Cons' work ever be put at risk.


Theatre leased to visiting companies. The first production is The White Devil, with Glenda Jackson.


It becomes the home of Prospect at The Old Vic under the artistic directorship of Toby Robertson. Productions include Hamlet with Derek Jacobi, Antony and Cleopatra with Alec McCowen and Dorothy Tutin, and Saint Joan with Eileen Atkins.


The theatre is put up for sale. Canadian businessman Ed Mirvish restores it to its former glory. The facade of the building is based on an 1830 engraving, and the auditorium on the designs of 1871. A giant sign is hung on the scaffolding: 'Lilian Baylis, you're going to love this. Honest Ed.'


Jonathan Miller directs 17 productions and collects five Olivier Awards.


Peter Hall's classic repertory season includes Beckett's Waiting for Godot, with Ben Kingsley and Alan Howard.


The Mirvish family puts the theatre on the market. Suggestions for changing it into a themed pub, a bingo hall or a lap-dancing club provoke widespread outrage and protests. In response to public and political pressure, it's acquired by The Old Vic Theatre Trust 2000, a registered charity set up by Sally Greene.


Transfer of the Almeida's production of The Iceman Cometh is a huge success. Kevin Spacey wins the Evening Standard Drama and Olivier Awards as Best Actor.


First production under the ownership of the Trust is Peter Hall's production of Amadeus, which is nominated for five Olivier Awards.


Announcement that The Old Vic will once again become a producing house. Kevin Spacey is appointed first artistic director of The Old Vic Theatre Company.


The new Company's first season opens in September with the British premiere of Cloaca by Maria Goos, directed by Spacey. It continues with a new version of Aladdin, with Ian McKellen as Widow Twankey.


The season's third production is the British premiere of National Anthems by Dennis McIntyre, starring Spacey, Mary Stuart Masterson and Steven Weber. It's followed by Philip Barry's The Philadelphia Story with Jennifer Ehle as Tracy Lord.


The Old Vic
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