Refurbishing Bristol Old Vic
Bristol Old Vic is the longest continuously running theatre in the UK and having opened in 1766 celebrates its 250th anniversary this year. In 2009, the theatre set about raising £25 million as part of a redevelopment scheme to fully refurbish the theatre. Phase one was completed in autumn 2012 and phase two is now ready to begin.
Taken as a site, Bristol Old Vic is made up of two eighteenth century buildings, an eighteenth century auditorium and an eighteenth century guildhall. In between those two distinct independent buildings is a 1970s development.
Phase one of the redevelopment addressed the auditorium and the back of house bases. The next phase has two objectives, creating a front of house social space for the public and recovering the guildhall so it can be used for business opportunities such as weddings, dinners and conferences.
Emma Stenning, chief executive of Bristol Old Vic, has been involved in the redevelopment from the start and told Premier Construction:
“When I came here in 2009, along with our artistic director Tom Morris, we inherited a building project that was still at a very early stage.
“The whole of the decade before Tom and I arrived people had been very clear in the need to develop the building and were determined to do so. Forces had conspired to make that very difficult so we arrived to find a board, a community and a city that were very clear on the need to develop the building.
“We had in place a team who had been working on it but I guess the project needed a bit of a kick-start, it needed a slight rethink, and it needed a fresh energy back into it.”
Part of that rethink was to split the redevelopment up. Completing it as a whole would have meant closing the theatre off to the public for several years which would have not only had a financial impact but also halted audience development.
The main contractor for the scheme is Gilbert Ash while Steve Tompkins of Haworth Tompkins is the architect. Tompkins has a history working on theatre developments and won the Stirling Prize for the biggest contribution to British architecture in 2014 for his work on the Everyman Theatre in Liverpool.
His designs for phase two are aimed at creating a more welcoming front for the public to enter Bristol Old Vic.
“There’s not a lot about the façade of Bristol Old Vic that says please come in. For the first time in its 250 year history you’ll be able to stand on the street and see through this open foyer space, and at the backdrop of which is the 1766 façade.
“The café will be spilling out onto the street and it will be obvious there is something going on, that you want to come inside.”
“I would say now that (Steve Tompkins) is the best theatre architect in the world.”
The aim is for the latest work to begin in autumn of this year and be completed during 2018. It is hoped that when completed the building will be set for minimum the next 50 years and will allow more people than ever to enjoy the benefits of the theatre at all times of the day.
“I think the new social spaces will mean that Bristol Old Vic is a building people will connect with throughout the day and not just about coming to a theatre performance.
“The building will be accessible for the first time. There will be lift access to all floors of the building whereas at the moment there just isn’t. All parts of the building will be accessible to people with different access needs and that feels like a really important part of the scheme.”
The theatre is also currently working with the heritage lottery fund and if all goes to plan will have an array of heritage activates lined up for the future.