Old Vic Theater plans a ‘supremely informal’ return for audiences

Old Vic Theater plans a ‘supremely informal’ return for audiences

The Old Vic in London will welcome theatergoers again this summer in a ‘fun and no bullying’ way, almost 16 months after closing due to the pandemic.

Artistic director Matthew Warchus, who staged a series of star-studded live performances in the empty building, said he had given serious thought to whether returning to the scene would be a hindrance for audiences. Admitting that although he had felt intimidated entering theaters in the past, he intends the whole experience – “go up in this building, buy a ticket, go into the auditorium, sit down. and watch ‘feel’ supremely informal ‘. A free membership program has been launched, offering discounts to those who live nearby in the boroughs of Lambeth or Southwark.

Warchus enlisted the help of Emma Rice, the brightly colored show director for Kneehigh and Shakespeare’s Globe, to create some great summer fun. Rice, he said, does “easy going without stooping” shows. She suggested an adaptation of the 1987 film Bagdad Cafe, about the unlikely alliances forged at a restaurant in the Mojave Desert. It is brimming with magic, music and fun, said Warchus, with a resonant story about “people coming out of loneliness and isolation with a sense of togetherness.” The performing arts itself, he added, is a “great unifier”.

Marianne Sägebrecht and CCH Pounder in the movie Bagdad Cafe. Photography: Pelemele Film

A world first, Bagdad Cafe is co-produced by Rice’s Wise Children, which directed an adaptation of Angela Carter’s novel of the same name at the Old Vic in 2018. Bagdad Cafe will open in mid-July for one month and will be released after it closes. It will be preceded, from July 7 to 10, by a cover of Harold Pinter’s darkly comedic two-handed 1960’s The Dumb Waiter, starring Daniel Mays and David Thewlis, staged in front of a reduced-capacity audience in the auditorium. It will be shown live for the theatre’s digital series In Camera, which debuted last summer with the play Lungs, starring Claire Foy and Matt Smith.

Warchus said they “made it up as they go” when they experimented with the Lungs stream, but the In Camera series is here to stay and two or three digital productions a year could be part of Old’s future lineup. Vic. It was telling for the organization to see the global audience it could reach beyond the building, he added.

The Dumb Waiter, about a pair of contract killers, was also relaunched at the Hampstead Theater in London just before Christmas. Short plays with small casts have been favored over the past year by theaters whose box office and bar receipts have been affected by reduced abilities and social distances. Another two, A Number by Caryl Churchill, played by Lennie James and Paapa Essiedu, will be staged by the Old Vic in early 2022.

Emma Rice’s production of Wise Children, starring Oman Douglas and Melissa James, at The Old Vic in 2018. Rice will be directing Bagdad Cafe at the theater this summer. Photographie: Tristram Kenton / The Guardian

During the lockdown, “every artistic director in the country was researching the monologues, the two and the three like crazy,” Warchus said, while noting that under his leadership, the 1,000-seat theater had a history of setting the stage. stage productions with small casts as well as large sets. “It’s a large, surprisingly intimate auditorium. Smaller-scale work can achieve this just as effectively. A larger cast will fill the stage for the return of Jack Thorne’s version of A Christmas Carol, which has been put on every year at the Old Vic since 2017. “We’re going to do whatever we can to keep our aspirations high. in an attempt to work at different scales, ”Warchus said.

Patsy Ferran and Luke Thallon – “two of the most amazingly stunning actors of their generation” – will star in another world premiere, Camp Siegfried by American playwright Bess Wohl, which opens in September. The play is based on an actual summer camp on Long Island for Americans of German descent and opposes the rise of Nazism.

In the spring of 2022, Terry Gilliam and Leah Hausman will co-direct a revival of the fairy tale musical Into the Woods by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine. The theater has also commissioned new plays from Diana Nneka Atuona, Natasha Gordon, Regina Taylor and Roy Williams, as well as a musical version of When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit by Judith Kerr, with a book and lyrics by Caroline Bird and music by Miranda Cooper and Nick Coler. . In June, a series of digital monologues will be hosted by actor Noma Dumezweni to mark Refugee Week.

Matthew Warchus au Old Vic.
Matthew Warchus au Old Vic. Photograph: Toby Melville / Reuters

The shutdown of UK theaters has been “more serious than we thought,” said Warchus, who warned a year ago that the Old Vic was facing a “seriously perilous” situation. He remembers the “feeling of massive shock” and “loss of control” caused by the pandemic at one of London’s oldest theaters, a charity that usually relies entirely on ticket sales, sponsorship and donations. He survived the crisis using the government’s leave program, staff receiving a 20% pay cut, a £ 3million ‘lifeline’ grant from the Culture and Culture Relief Fund. support from individuals and partner companies. “We have laid off staff,” he said. “A lot of companies have had to do this. But we were able to keep a lot more employees than we feared. The lockdown had exposed the precariousness of independent careers, Warchus said, and theaters must now explore what kind of support, beyond employment, they can offer to freelancers who make up 70% of their workforce.

Warchus will spend the next few months at Shepperton Studios filming a version of the musical Matilda, based on the successful RSC adaptation of Roald Dahl’s novel about an overpowered bookworm. He said the proposed 50% cut in funding for arts subjects in universities, which could come into effect this fall, is a “disgrace”.

“I was told when I was in school that music and drama were Mickey Mouse subjects,” he recalls. “I thought it had died out. The government really needs to get along with the rest of the public and realize that the evidence is unassailable for its value.


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