The Bristol Old Vic - History and Facts | History Hit

The Bristol Old Vic

Bristol, England, United Kingdom

Celeste Neill

28 Jul 2021
Image Credit: Shutterstock

About The Bristol Old Vic

Built in 1766, the Bristol Old Vic is the oldest continuously working theatre in the English-speaking world. The Georgian structure includes the original horseshoe-shaped auditorium and an additional foyer, The Coopers Hall, both of which are Grade I listed buildings. The theatre is closely associated with the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School which boasts a number of famous British alumni.

History of The Bristol Old Vic

The Bristol Old Vic first opened on May 30 1766 with a capacity for more than 1600, which is 1000 more than the theatre holds today. It was technically an illegal venue as theatre was heavily censored at the time by the Lord Chamberlain under the Licensing Act of 1737, due to political offence caused by satirical plays. The theatre entrance was therefore initially hidden away from the street behind a row of houses and to gain admission, people had to knock on the door of a number of neighbouring private homes which they then walked through to gain entrance from the backyard.

In 1788 it the theatre was awarded its Royal patent and its legalised status allowed it to openly advertise and legally perform full length plays.

The theatre has been through a number of refurbishments during which time archaeologists discovered some 19th century graffiti in the theatre, including a graffiti style sketch of a schooner in full-sail, said to be made by the theatre’s carpenter E J Harwell in 1859. In 1972, a new theatre complex designed by Peter Moro was completed, which resulted in a number of inner buildings being demolished including the original stage area of the 1766 theatre.

The Bristol Old Vic today

In 1946 The Bristol Old Vic Theatre School was opened by Laurence Olivier. Past students include Brian Blessed, Naomi Harris, Olivia Coleman, Daniel Day Lewis, Jeremy Irons, Miranda Richardson, and Gene Wilder. Over seven million people have seen a theatre production at Bristol Old Vic since it was established, with the theatre producing regular touring shows across the world.

Getting to The Bristol Old Vic

Bristol Old Vic is located on King Street, London, a short walk from the City Centre Harbourside. It is around a 15 minute walk from either the main train or bus station. There are good local car parking facilities in the surrounding area.

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