Theatre / Bristol old vic

Bristol Old Vic: looking back, looking forward

By steve wright, Monday Oct 5, 2020

“Artists are aching to perform. Audiences are excited to return to live performance. And the environment is safe and well controlled.”

Bristol Old Vic’s artistic director Tom Morris is enthusing over how life is returning, post-lockdown, to the theatre.

“Over the last few weeks, we have run a trial of live performance in our newly dubbed Courtyard Stage (foyer) and our outdoor Garden Stage on King Street. The trial has worked, and every show has sold very quickly.”

Indeed. The COVID pandemic may have meant a temporary hold on traditional theatre in enclosed spaces, but that hasn’t meant a ceasing of activity – or not at BOV at least. The menu down on King Street this summer has included a return for Ferment, BOV’s ever-fertile artist development strand, in socially distanced performances in the theatre’s bar and café.

The theatre launched an open call for five seed commissions called The View From Here – development commissions to support artists in creating work as the world changed. And the results were as intriguing as ever.

Shows included Holly Beasley-Garrigan, Ivy Corbin & Dee Hassan’s Tealeaf, a video / installation / performance about stealing by artists and participants who’ve experienced the sharp end of Britain’s class-system, and Black Women Let Loose’s new show Ama’s Tides, a work-in-progress that addresses the harsh impacts of the unfurling pandemic.
Elsewhere, Saikat Ahamed’s The Bristol Argonautica was a long-form verse inspired by epic poems like The Iliad or The Odyssey, dealing with feelings of isolation, connection and the idea of getting ‘home’ during the pandemic.

A little further back, late August brought Buffering, the inaugural show from Leave the Light Ensemble, a young company formed from graduates of BOV’s Made in Bristol training scheme for aspiring young theatre makers. There was also some socially-distanced Shakespeare, courtesy of bike-bound touring theatre troupe The Handlebards, on the brand new Garden Stage. Fuelled by cabin fever and with a bookshelf full of Shakespeare, three performers created an unhinged, bonkers, laugh-out-loud version of Romeo & Juliet.

And we mustn’t forget the week of performances of Emma Rice’s delicious musical love story Romantics Anonymous, broadcast online – plus one night’s live, socially-distanced performance inside the theatre itself.

And there’s plenty to look forward to, as well. “Audiences have been able to experience live theatre once more – with socially distanced measures in place, of course,” Tom continues. “So now we’re cranking up the gears for a phased reopening throughout the autumn, which will include bringing audiences into the theatre itself and building our capacity until we can welcome all of Bristol back into the heart of King Street.

“After six months of forced closure, we are extremely grateful to our artists, our supporters, and our audiences, that once again we can host live performances in our theatre. We are also experimenting with a hybrid approach which will see the digital world meet the live experience, something we believe is vital for this industry’s future and will form an important new strand of our business moving forward.

“For some audiences it’s still not safe to travel, and for others, nationally and internationally, there is a growing appetite to participate in our work even though travel to Bristol is impossible. So watch out for hybrid experiments as the autumn progresses. On our current slate are on-off performances by some of the most exciting artists in our region and beyond – and plans are already afoot to bring back some local favourites…

“We are coming back. Stay close to Bristol 24/7 for further news. We’ll announce it here first.”

Upcoming shows will be announced soon, so keep checking back at and

Main pic: Steve Tanner

Read more: Interview: Bristol poet Amy Tollyfield

Related articles