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Off-Tour Theatres: Bristol Old Vic

For our first study of off-tour theatres, we're going outside London to see the legendary Bristol Old Vic.

Originally modelled on Theatre Royal Drury Lane (the oldest active theatre site in Britain), Bristol Old Vic is now the longest continuously-running theatre in the English-speaking world.

It began life as The Bristol Theatre in 1766, paid for by 50 investors donating £50 each, and was officially opened by the great David Garrick.

Having been operating illegally without a royal patent (early patrons had to knock on the neighbouring door to be let in!), it was officially awarded one in 1778 and changed its name to the Theatre Royal, Bristol. Actors who once performed at the Theatre Royal include Dames Ellen Terry and Edith Evans, and its company was also responsible for offering Henry Irving his very first professional acting opportunity. Bristol Old Vic is still allegedly haunted by the acclaimed 18th century tragedienne Sarah Siddons and the theatre's faithful 19th Century manager Sarah M'Cready. The latter's presence is said to be accompanied with the scent of lavender!

Suffering financially, the theatre was briefly sold off in 1940 - and due to be become a banana-ripening warehouse - but was mercifully saved and given new life in 1946. The then recently-formed Arts Council asked London's Old Vic (headed by Laurence Olivier & Ralph Richardson) to send a resident repertory company to Bristol, hence the Theatre Royal thereafter became Bristol Old Vic. The affiliated drama school - Bristol Old Vic Theatre School - was started the same year. Its list of significant alumni include Daniel Day-Lewis, Gene Wilder, Patrick Stewart, Miranda Richardson and Olivia Colman.

The theatre is currently looking better than ever, having received a hefty £19million refurbishment in 2012. Its current production - Dr Semmelweis - is directed by Tom Morris (War Horse) and sees Mark Rylance's Bristol Old Vic debut.

This is a real gem of a theatre - definitely worth a day-trip out of London!

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