A Brief History of the Old Vic London Theatre

The Old Vic is a well-known and most historically significant venue on the London theatre scene. It is in Lambeth, London, on the corner of Waterloo Road and the Cut close to Waterloo Station. This historic establishment has hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons recently after it was revealed that there were 20 separate allegations made against Kevin Spacey who worked in the capacity of artistic director of The Old Vic between 2004 and 2015. Here is a brief overview of the history of this theatre.

The Old Vic was originally founded by Daniel Dunn and James King in 1818. The two men were former managers of Surrey theatre, Bermondsey. John Thomas Serres, a Marine painter for the reigning King, was also one of the founders. Initially, the venue was called The Royal Coburg Theatre. As it was a minor theatre, they were forbidden from showing any serious dramas. Regardless of this rule. Edmund Kean played six Shakespeare plays over a period of six nights when George Bolwell took over in 1824. This established the theatre as a serious venue for bringing art to the masses.

William Abbott and Daniel Egerton bought The Old Vic in 1833. Earlier that year, the government had overturned the distinction between minor and patent theatres and Abbot and Egerton tried to capitalize on this. It was renamed The Royal Victoria Theatre afterPrincess Victoria, the heir presumptive. The venue had become known simply as The Victoria Theatre by 1835.

David Osbaldiston took over in 1841. His lover and the theatre’s leading lady was Eliza Vincent. She took the reins when he died in 1850 until her own death in 1856. Following Vincent, Joseph Arnold Cave became the lessee from 1867, then Romaine Delatorre from 1871. Delatorre raised funds to rebuild the structure using Jethro Thomas Robinson as the architect. Whilework was completed, it closed in September 1871 but reopened later the same year as The Royal Victoria Palace.

The venue then became The Royal Victoria Hall in 1880 under the ownership of Emma Cons although it was already known as ‘The Old Vic’. After Cons’ death, the theatre was run by her niece, Lilian Baylis. Led by Sir John Gielgud, The Old Vic Company was formed in 1929.

The building suffered significant damage during World War II and The Old Vic Company relocated to a base in Burnley even though they spent much of their time touring. By 1963, The Old Vic Company had been dissolved but was replaced by The National Theatre Company which was led by Lord Olivier and they used The Old Vic as their base until they had their own building.

Prospect Theatre Company attempted to replace The National Theatre Company. They were successful with their bid and their first performance at the theatre took place in 1977. There was also The Old Vic Youth Theatre which was founded in 1977 and they continued to perform at this establishment until the mid-1980s.

In 1985, the theatre was significantly restored. Jonathan Miller was appointed as artistic director of The theatre In 1987 and he was replaced by Sir Peter Hall in 1997. By 2003, Kevin Spacey had taken over the role and hoped to inject some new life into British theatre. Sadly, it now appears that Spacey’s time as the artistic director was troublesome. He left the role in 2015 and was replaced in the same year by Matthew Warchus.


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