The Old Vic | Attraction Guides | History Hit

The Old Vic

London, England, United Kingdom

Sarah Roller

21 Jun 2021
Image Credit: Ale Argentieri / Shutterstock

About The Old Vic

The Old Vic is one of London’s key theatres and was formerly home to the National Theatre of Great Britain. It continues to host regular performances today and remains a much-loved institution in the performing arts scene.

History of the Old Vic

The Old Vic was originally founded in 1818 by James King and Daniel Dunn. With the patronage of Princess Charlotte and Prince Leopold, it was named the Royal Coburg Theatre although without letters patent, it was technically forbidden to show serious drama but in 1824, legendary actor Edmund Kean performed six Shakespeare plays in six nights, bringing high art to the masses.

In 1833, the theatre was renamed the Royal Victoria Theatre, after Princess Victoria, heir presumptive at the time. She visited only once, but this justified the theatre’s new nickname – the Old Vic – and the theatre’s ongoing claim to be ‘Queen Victoria’s Own Theayter’ from then on. Melodrama tended to be the majority of what was played, but occasionally opera was performed too.

Like almost all of London’s theatres, there was a fire-related disaster at the Old Vic in 1858. An actor’s clothing caught fire, panic ensued and 16 people were crushed to death as a result. The theatre went through various reincarnations, including a brief period as a temperance hall and coffee tavern, before become a hub for Shakespeare in 1912, when the theatre was under the management of Lilian Baylis.

The Old Vic was badly damaged during the Blitz, and spent most of the Second World War touring. In 1944, Laurence Olivier joined the newly re-established Old Vic Theatre Company, and the theatre re-opened following renovations in 1950. It was the home of the National Theatre Company between 1963 and 1976.

Today, the Old Vic is one of London’s best-loved theatres and has an acclaimed programme of performances every season.

The Old Vic today

The Old Vic has regular performances – tickets often sell out far in advance so it’s worth being organised. Unfortunately the theatre doesn’t run tours, but there is a café and bar which is open to use.

Getting to the Old Vic

The Old Vic is 5 minutes walk from Waterloo, on the Cut and Waterloo Road. It’s a short walk from Southwark Station too. The Southbank is 5 minutes away and teeming with excellent restaurants, bars and atmosphere if you want to grab something to eat or drink before the performance.

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