The Old Vic

The Old Vic (85)

In the South Bank area, close to Waterloo railway station, is one of the most famous theatres in London: the Old Vic. Fans of plays and acting really must not miss the chance to visit this singularly historic stage.


Founded in 1818 with the name of the Royal Coburg Theatre, its first performance offered the nobility and bourgeoisie that formed the audience an entertaining variety show, which included a melodramatic piece and an Asian dance show. 

In 1833 it was reopened with the aim of promoting local theatrical talent. In honour of the princess who four years later would become queen, the name was changed and from then on became known as The Royal Victoria.

In successive decades, the innovative spirit that lay behind the creation of the theatre gradually disappeared. The audience levels also decreased, along with its standards. After being put up for sale several times, in 1880 it reopened as a music hall, a very popular genre in the Victorian era.

At the turn of the century, the theatre began to recover its prestige thanks to the efforts of its director, Lillian Baylis, and they began performing the first works of William Shakespeare in 1914. In this sense, the most fruitful period was that between 1920 and 1925, when 36 works by Shakespeare were put on, including the First Folio.

With time, the theatre began signing up stars of the West End, such as Edith Evans, and John Gielgud who became a Shakespearian hero thanks to his magnificent performances in works such as Hamlet, Richard II or King Lear. From 1929 Gielgud led the recently created Old Vic Company, which gradually signed up stars of the category of Alec Guinness, Laurence Olivier, Richard Burton and Judi Dench.

In 1962 another critical moment for the Old Vic occurred: Laurence Olivier was named director of the recently created National Theatre company, and the management of the Old Vic offered the theatre as a provisional headquarters. One year later the old Old Vic company was dissolved and the shows of the National Theatre remained definitively in the theatre. The first show to premiere was a glorious Hamlet with Peter O’Toole in the lead role. Until 1976, when the National Theatre moved to its new headquarters designed by the architect Denys Lasdun, actors such as Anthony Hopkins and Maggie Smith performed at the Old Vic.

At the end of the 90s, a charity, the Old Vic Theatre Trust 2000, bought the theatre after the former owners put it up for sale and there was speculation about whether it would be turned into a pub or a leisure centre.

In 2003, the Phoenix rose up again from its ashes, and the Old Vic returned to the fray with the founding of the Old Vic Theatre Company. And it had a trump card to play: the appointment as artistic director of the double Oscar-winning North American actor Kevin Spacey. Is that not a story worthy of a theatre?

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