Bristol Old Vic
Bristol Old Vic, the UK’s oldest continuously working theatre has reopened following a multi-million pound investment project. Built in 1766 the theatre has undergone an extensive renovation and refurbishment plan, which started in 2012, with the hopes that the new look will lead to a ‘new era’ for the venue.
Work on the site has included a full height timber and glass-fronted foyer, restoration of the Georgian Coppers Hall and the creation of flexible spaces including a new studio in the old barrel vaults, mezzanine galleries, winding staircases and viewing platforms.
Emma Stenning, Chief Executive of Bristol Old Vic, spoke to Premier Construction following the completion of the project.
For those who don’t know, tell us how this project came about?
“Plans to develop Bristol Old Vic date back to the late 90s, as it became clear that the building’s historic fabric was in need of repair and that, operationally, the site could be better configured to suit the charitable and commercial needs of a contemporary theatre company. We completed the refurbishment of the Georgian auditorium and the creation of new back of house spaces back in 2012, after which we set about the fundraising for, and design development of, our new foyer and studio theatre.”
In a nutshell, what did the project involve?
“This phase of the project has really fallen into two parts. Firstly, the restoration of the 18th century Coopers’ Hall to include a grand hall at piano nobile level, a loft level rehearsal space, and a basement studio theatre. Alongside this, a large section of 20th century fabric was completely demolished, making way for a new entrance and foyer, where we now have a café/bar trading from 8am through to post show.”
Can you guide us around the space a little bit? If you were to walk in for the first time, what kind of things would you see and what look and feel have you gone for?
“It’s a really welcoming space. Above the front door there is a neon sign that reads ‘come on in’ and I think that spirit permeates the whole building. Once inside you find yourself in a glorious foyer space, which is at once completely beautiful and totally relaxed. We’ve revealed original fabric, whether it is 20th century brick, or 18th century stone, and complemented that with wooden and leather furniture throughout. The natural materials make for a very tactile space, one that will age wonderfully as people use the building more and more.
“The foyer acts as a central meeting place, from where you can easily find your way to the Theatre or the Weston Studio, or the various events rooms and rehearsal spaces. Steve Tompkins’ vision was of a town square, a feeling of open space where people would congregate for food and conversation before heading into their show or event. It’s achieved perfectly, with the soaring height of the foyer, and the brilliance of natural light that streams in through the front windows and skylight.
“Perhaps the most defining aspect of the project is the reveal of the theatre’s 1766 façade. The theatre is built one block back from the street and has forever been hidden from view, either because of the houses that originally stood between it and King Street or, more recently, because of the location of our former studio theatre and offices. The reconfiguration has completely opened out this space and now, for the first time, you can see the theatre’s front wall from the street. “Throughout the morning it is lit from the skylight above, and by dusk it’s beautifully animated by candles. In short, it’s a stunning backdrop to a wonderful new public space.”
Would you say there are any design features that standout in the new design?
“In addition to the 1766 wall, the shutters on King Street are rather special. We needed to develop something that would manage solar gain and sun glare coming into the foyer and began to think about a set of corten steel shutters that would sit in front of our giant glass windows. We thought long and hard about whether and what the shutters might communicate and eventually settled on two pieces of text. From the outside looking in, the shutters present Miles Chambers’ brilliant poem ‘Bristol Bristol,’ which Miles (our former City Poet) performed on our stage on our 250th birthday. From the inside looking out, you can read David Garrick’s prologue, performed on the stage in 1766. So, words that speak to each other, 250 years apart.”
Have you had any feedback about the project – how has it been received?
“People love it, which is wonderful!”
How important is this project for you?
“It’s the thing that I am most proud of having been part of and I’ve loved every minute of working on it.”
For more information on Bristol Old Vic, visit: https://bristololdvic.org.uk/