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Theatre of Great Britain on its formation in 1963, under Laurence Olivier. The National Theatre remained at the Old Vic until new premises were constructed on the South Bank, opening in 1976.
The theatre was founded in 1818 by James King and Daniel Dunn (formerly managers of the Surrey Theatre in Bermondsey). The theatre was a “minor” theatre (as opposed to one of the two patent theatres) and was thus technically forbidden to show serious drama. Nevertheless, when the theatre passed to William Bolwell Davidge in 1824 he succeeded in bringing legendary actor Edmund Kean south of the river to play six Shakespeare plays in six nights. The theatre’s role in bringing high art to the masses was confirmed when Kean addressed the audience during his curtain call saying “I have never acted to such a set of ignorant, unmitigated brutes as I see before me”.
In 1880, under the ownership of Emma Cons to whom there are plaques outside & inside the theatre, it became The Royal Victoria Hall And Coffee Tavern and was run on “strict temperance lines”, by this time it was already known as the “Old Vic”.
The Old Vic Company was established in 1929, led by Sir John Gielgud. In 1963, however, the Old Vic company was dissolved and the new National Theatre Company, under the artistic direction of Lord Olivier, was based at the Old Vic until its own building was opened on the South Bank near Waterloo Bridge in 1976.
Since 1988 the Theatre has been permitted to call itself the Royal National Theatre, but the full title is rarely used. The theatre presents a varied programme, including Shakespeare and other International classic drama; and new plays by contemporary playwrights. Each auditorium in the theatre can run up to three shows in repertoire or repertory, thus further widening the number of plays which can be put on during any one season. The current Artistic Director, Nicholas Hytner took over in April 2003. He previously worked as an Associate Director with the Royal Exchange Theatre and the National. A number of his successful productions have been made into films.
As for The Old Vic and its company, from 1977 the theatre was leased to visiting companies and in1982 it was put up for sale.
Only in 2003 it was announced that The Old Vic would once again become a producing house. Kevin Spacey was appointed first artistic director of The Old Vic Theatre Company. The new Company’s first season opened in September, 2004, with the British premiere of Cloaca by Maria Goos, directed by Kevin Spacey, the first artistic director of The Old Vic Theatre Company.
Now the Old Vic has no subsidy. Ticket sales alone are not enough to cover all of its costs, so the financial support of generous individuals, companies, trusts and foundations is vital to their existence.
Some plays are so successful that they run for years on end. In many ways, this is unfortunate for the poor actors who are required to go on repeating the same lines night after night. One would expect them to know their parts by heart and never have cause to falter. Yet this is not always the case.
A famous actor in a highly successful play was once cast in the role of an aristocrat who had been imprisoned in the Bastille for twenty years. In the last act, a gaoler would always come on to the stage with a letter which he would hand to the prisoner. Even though the noble was expected to read the letter at each performance, he always insisted that it should be written out in full.
One night, the gaoler decided to play a joke on his colleague to find out if, after so many performances, he had managed to learn the contents of the letter by heart. The curtain went up on the final act of the play and revealed the aristocrat sitting alone behind bars in his dark cell. Just then, the gaoler appeared with the precious letter in his hands. He entered the cell and presented the letter to the aristocrat. But the copy he gave him had not been written out in full as usual. It was simply a blank sheet of paper. The gaoler looked on eagerly, anxious to see if his fellow-actor had at last learnt his lines. The noble stared at the blank sheet of paper for a few seconds. Then, squinting his eyes, he said: “The light is dim. Read the letter to me.” And he promptly handed the sheet of paper to the gaoler. Finding that he could not remember a word of the letter either, the gaoler replied: “The light is dim indeed, sire. I must get my glasses.” With this, he hurried off the stage. Much to the aristocrat’s amusement, the gaoler returned a few moments later with a pair of glasses and the usual copy of the letter which he proceeded to read to the prisoner.
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