Your Stories

Thank you to everyone who has shared a special memory of The Old Vic

Chris Rogers

When I first moved to London as a budding actor I needed a job and walked into The Old Vic with a CV in hand. I bumped into Liz Sillet who back then ran front of house. I told her I needed a job quick or the landlord wouldn’t sign my rental agreement. She answered: ‘Can you start tomorrow?’

Back then I had no idea what The Old Vic was, but oh how quick I fell in love with its history, its struggle and the unbelievable amount of theatre magic that has come out of the building. That was twelve years ago. I’m kinda doing alright as an actor now, but… I keep doing the odd shift because I can’t bear to let the old queen go. I miss her when I’m away too long.

The Old Vic will continue to write theatre history and a world of fantastic actors would give it all to stand on its stage. Of course I am one of them, but until I stand on that stage I am happy and proud that I have helped a little from my usher seat.

Lola Monk

My  Mother started working at The Old Vic when it was housed at the New Theatre in St Martins lane. She was first a dresser and then became wardrobe mistress and worked at The Old Vic from 1947 for around 10/15 years and was fortunate to have been there during the time of Laurence Olivier, Vivien Leigh, Ralph Richardson, Richard Burton, Claire Bloom and the debut performance of Alec Guiness in The Alchemist.

She travelled with the cast that went to Baalbek in Beirut also with Richard Burton and Claire Bloom to Elsinore castle in Denmark where they performed Hamlet. She travelled with the cast to Australia in charge of the wardrobe and as dresser for Vivien Leigh. Her name was Pearl Shaw.

Valerie Stirling

On 5 March 1966 I had two tickets to see The Royal Hunt of the Sun. These had been bought some months earlier when I thought I would be going with my current boyfriend. However, this relationship had ended in January.

By early March I had a new escort but he refused to go to the play as the date clashed with what he thought was an important (socially/professionally) party hosted by his boss. Reluctantly I went with him to the party. There I met a colleague of his who on 3 December that year became my husband.

Sometime later that year I rebooked tickets for The Royal Hunt of the Sun, a performance that my husband has never ceased to praise, later productions never quite hitting the spot.

Shannon Murray

I teach Shakespeare at a small Undergraduate University in Eastern Canada, and I always start my Shakespeare courses the same way: ‘When I was 16, I saw a performance of Hamlet that changed my life.’ I tell them about getting a last minute student ticket – for a pound fifty, as I recall – and sitting in the second row, so close to the action that I could see droplets of sweat fly in the duel scene. I tell them that some scenes are seared into my mind as if the whole thing were a life-shaking trauma. I tell them that it was in that performance that I ‘got it’ – I knew suddenly why people thought Shakespeare was so great, and I understood what was going on in the play, even if I couldn’t understand every single word. That experience stayed with me, and even though I’ve been lucky enough to see some groundbreaking performances, that first shock is what for me defines Hamlet, defines Shakespeare, and defines the power of the stage to transform lives. You never forget your first.

That was 1977, with Derek Jacobi, at The Old Vic. A few decades later, it occurred to me that I should let him know that he is invoked every September in a small Island classroom. So I found his agent’s address and wrote him a card – my one and only fan letter. And he wrote me back. I now have a little Derek Jacobi shrine in my university office, with that thank you card, the original programme and ticket stub, and my Derek Jacobi action figure (as the Master, of course).

Thank you, Old Vic.

Jo Mason

My Mother, Patricia Pellowe, was a cast member for the year 1931/32 at the same time as Ralph Richardson, Peggy Ashcroft. John Gielgud, Alaistair Sim and Harcourt Williams.

She trained at the Royal Academy of Music and her first job on leaving was at The Old Vic and her first performance was in King John at Sadler’s Wells on September 15 1931, the day of her 21st birthday. She used to tell me stories of Lilian Baylis – everyone was terrified of her! It was the most wonderful debut for an actress, and she would loved to have done a second season but apparently ‘times were hard’ and there was a cutback on company numbers for 32/33.

I have original copies of all the programmes for that season, price ‘threepence’ and the audience was asked to ‘remain silent after the lowering of the lights and refrain from striking matches during the progress of scenes.’ Photos of the players were available price 6d each.

After seasons at Richmond Theatre and touring the country playing Shakespeare for schools, she came to Sheffield (where she met my Father) to be part of the first professional company at the newly reformed, Sheffield Playhouse in 1935.

After her death I bought a seat in the Lilian Baylis circle in her memory and I supplied through our family jewellery company, some of the brass plaques attached to the seats. On one visit Susie Songhurst took me on stage to stand on the exact spot my Mother stood in my photograph of her in Henry V. A great thrill! 10 years before she died I made a tape of her talking to me about her life in the theatre and I was asked to send a copy to The Old Vic archives in Bristol.

I feel a great affinity with the theatre and was lucky enough to be at both inaugural and leaving shows of Kevin Spacey. Wonderful and memorable occasions!

Carol Abbott

It was 1970. I was just 20 years old and thrilled to be working as a Production Secretary in BBC Radio Drama. Everything was new and exciting to me – if also a little daunting..
I was PA to a director called R.D (Reggie) Smith. He was a one-off. Well respected by the peers of the Drama world and certainly larger than life. Judi Dench,Paul Scofield, John Geilgud, Ralph Richardson, Michael Redgrave, Sian Phillips… (apologies for leaving out their titles) – all counted themselves as his friends. He also happened to be married to the authoress Olivia Manning. The TV series Fortunes of War based on her autobiographical trilogy would be made later on and this starred Emma Thompson as Olivia and Kenneth Branagh as Reggie.

It was no surprise, therefore, that Reggie had access to and received favours from this Thespian Elite – and many of them agreed to take part in a Son Et Lumiere which he was producing around that time. I was lucky enough to accompany him when we recorded most of these famous voices.

The most special was when we went to The Old Vic to record Sir Laurence Olivier. We arrived at this beautiful theatre -Sir Laurence had suggested it would be easier for us to see him there. It was the first time I had ever been to that famous theatre and I savoured it. We met Sir Laurence as arranged and he suggested using a room to record his piece which would involve our walking across the stage from one side to the other. I knew then, as I said to myself..’I AM ACTUALLY ON THE STAGE OF THE OLD VIC WITH SIR LAURENCE OLIVIER…..!’… that it would forever, for me, be a memory and moment to treasure.

Charonne Boulton

After being inspired as a schoolgirl, sitting in the ‘Gods’, watching Eileen Atkins in Twelfth Night, I went on to work at the theatre during the glorious National Theatre years from 1963. I remember particularly Olivier’s Othello and the matinee attended by Vivien Leigh just weeks before she died.

For a while I had a tiny office up the stairs from the Box Office where I tried to sleep one night after an Olivier party listening for the ghost of Lilian Baylis playing her violin (that was the story). From Twelfth Night in the late 1950s until Girl from the North Country just last month productions at The Old Vic have given me such joy, and truly enriched my life. So thank you Old Vic. Happy Birthday!

Stephen Claypole

There was a theatrical costumier who was said to have worked at The Old Vic and helped to keep things going on the stage in wartime. She was very generous with her time at drama and arts schools giving a  talk ‘Making Costumes on low budgets. I can’t remember her name but there was a touch of arsenic and old lace about her. There was a slight resemblance to Dame Margaret Rutherford of whom it was said that she could act the rest of the cast off the stage just by using one of her chins. The costumier had lots of useful tips such as using silvery tops from milk bottles to make chainmail. Then she would move on to a long paen to felt. ‘Felt’, she intoned ‘is inexpensive. It is often dull of colour but any lighting man worth his salts can do something about that. It can be cut into many shapes and the entire cast will look resplendent.’ With timing worthy of Dame Margaret she would pause and look around the class and say: ‘Now girls tell me where do you get felt?’ Pandemonium would break out in the class but the costumier quickly resumed command by saying triumphantly: ‘That’s right…. At Trewins in Queens Road, Watford.’

Elena Korotkikh

So basically The Old Vic gave me the best birthday present ever in 2014. I was new to London, had no close friends to celebrate my birthday with, so I decided to have an evening all to myself, and went to see Clarence Darrow with Kevin Spacey on June 6 2014. I didn’t buy the ticket that much in advance and managed to snatch the very last one in the very front bench row that you have.

I love Kevin Spacey and was happy enough just to see him in action on stage… until one moment he turns around, points at the seat next to me and says ‘Can I sit right there?’… Honestly, my face must’ve said it all because from like 6 INCHES from him (I honestly still can’t believe that happened!). I could see that he could barely hold a laugh!

It was definitely one of the best birthdays of my life, but seriously though, Old Vic.. How did you know?

Edward Peacock

In answer to one of your questions, I did indeed once see Laurence Olivier perform, and that at The Old Vic. I saw him in his last stage appearance, as the old red John Tagg in The Party by Trevor Griffiths in 1973. In his biography of Olivier Philip Ziegler writes glowingly about the great man’s performance, observing that his opening 20-minute Marxist monologue could in lesser hands bore the audience rigid.

Oh dear. I took with me an attractive nurse I was smitten with at the time. But enduring an evening of socialist dialectic was not what she’d signed up for. She left me for a doctor soon afterwards.

Muriel Wilson

I had just arrived in London to begin as a student at London University in September 1951, and began buying tickets in the Upper Circle for ‘classic’ plays. I’ll never forget watching Donald Wolfit as the defeated Tamburlaine, on a low stool centre stage with his richly embroidered cloak spread around him in a great arc, particularly effective from the high viewpoint of the Upper Circle. It was my introduction to a kind of performance rarely if ever seen in my provincial home town, and engendered a lifelong passion for the theatre.

Natalia Jugheli

You call it Good Luck, I call it Magic.

I was already enrolled on a course at LAMDA when I heard that Glenda Jackson was coming back as King Lear. As an actress at the beginning of my career, seeing her performance was one of my main purposes of visiting London. Of course, all online tickets were sold out so I planned to buy the returns.

I was saving money in case there were only expensive tickets returned. It was worth doing anything to see Glenda as Lear and one of my friends decided to come with me.

The dream day came, I went to The Old Vic very early, didn’t wait for my friend, entered, hooray… and suddenly they tell me there is only one return with a restricted view…

I would definitely buy it but what about my dear friend? Almost in tears, I went out and stood leaning against The Old Vic. I simply didn’t know what to do. I wanted to message my friend, go home and wait for the next day when I heard somebody mumbling. I couldn’t see anybody but some long haired guy facing his back to me. Instinctively I said: ‘Excuse me, did you say something to me?
He: Do you want a ticket?
Me: For tonight’s performance?
He: Yes.
Me: I’m waiting for my friend, we need two tickets.
He: ok then…
Me: (calculating if I can buy this one and my friend will buy the one at the box office): Wait, just what kind of ticket do you have?
He: I have two tickets.
Me: But… you have two tickets?!… Which row?
He: The very first one
Me (seriously thinking he’s a fraud):  You have two tickets in the first row? For how much? I still have to wait for my friend, I don’t know if he can afford it…
He: 10 Pounds each.
Me (He’s definitely a fraud): Are you kidding me? It cannot be real. Can we go and show the tickets to the theatre workers?
He: Yes of course (showing me the tickets, they are real). My wife bought them and she couldn’t make it today so it would be really bad to lose these tickets…

I have bought both of the tickets immediately. I said million thank you’s and I even annoyed him with my gratefulness I think. My friend  also thought that it was insane what happened, he thought the man was a saint haha… We were seated almost in the center of the first row. Glenda Jackson was looking in our eyes and I couldn’t stop crying out of happiness. This was one of the greatest and strongest performances of King Lear I have ever seen.

Since then when I imagine King Lear in my head it’s always Glenda Jackson with her regal and tragic look at the same time and with her witty, authoritative speech. The way she speaks is a masterclass for all actors. After the performance we even had a tiny chat with her, which is a separate story I’ll tell you later. I saw the play a second time after two weeks because I couldn’t miss the chance of witnessing one of the greatest actresses of our time.

I wrote this story to say thank you to a complete stranger who changed my life forever. Maybe, it was just one night, but what is our life but the sum of the most amazing memories? Honestly, this man didn’t say ”Valar Morghuls’, nor had he wings but he looked like a character from a fairy tale… He looked like an old soul of the magical theatre Old Vic.

Patrick Macartney

I went to see my good friend Maxwell (Max) Hutcheon in a performance of The Tempest in Oct 1988 (director: Jonathan Miller; Alexei Sale as Trinculo). Max appeared in the cast list as ‘Mariners’ and I glowed with pride at his excellent if somewhat minor performance. As the applause wound down at the end, I was delighted to hear the people next to me commenting on how good Max had been. I jumped into their conversation boasting that he was my good friend, then noticed for the first time in the cast list that the actor playing Prospero was Max von Sydow. I left quickly in total confusion.

Carolyn Masini

I had been an admirer of Richard Armitage’s work and The Crucible play had always been a favorite of mine. When I heard he was going to play John Proctor, I was excited and disappointed at the same time. I was excited because I knew he would be a phenomenal John Proctor. I was disappointed because I live in California and flying to London to see the play was silly, right?

During early previews, pictures and commentary was being shared among the fandom. I read in earnest each day and secretly wished I could make the trip. Visiting England had always been a life long wish but I didn’t even have a passport. Not to mention my husband approving of me making the trip to see another Several weeks go by and I am talking to my sister-in-law about the play and the fabulous reviews it was receiving. I also mentioned how Richard would do stage door every night after the play. My husband overheard the conversation and told me to go. I thought he was joking and ignored the comment. Later that week, I purchased a ticket to the play just to say I had a ticket and secretly wishing my husband was not joking. A week later he asked me if I was going? I told him I thought he was joking. He said he knew how much I had always wanted to go to London and here was my opportunity. So within a course of two months I had a passport, a plane ticket, hotel room booked, and now a total of three tickets to see The Crucible.

I arrived on a Wednesday morning and I was off and running. My niece who had spent a semester in London, plus several visits later, gave me the lay out of London and how to navigate the Tube. I spent my days running around London seeing all that I could and my evenings were spent at The Old Vic.

When I arrived at The Old Vic, I procured the tickets I had purchased online for three performances. I looked at my tickets thinking I could not believe I was here. As I took my seat, I couldn’t believe I was sitting in this historical building. Each of my tickets were in different places around the stage and the first night I was in the third row to the side. The next evening I was sitting in the first row to the side and had to remember to keep my feet tucked as to not trip any of the actors. I was so close to have touched them and was within spitting distance when they talked. My final ticket was for closing night and I was sitting seven rows back along one of the aisles. Each seat gave me a different perspective and I saw something new with each performance. After a rousing final curtain call, as I was exciting the building, I realized Kevin Spacey was walking right behind me. I couldn’t wait to tell my husband Frank Underwood was walking behind me.

Thank you for being part of The Crucible magic. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about my trip and seeing this incredible production. The performances were emotionally draining and assaulted my senses. Afterwards the stage door visits were a dream come true. When the screen version of The Crucible came to my local theatre a couple months ago, I had to see it. It gave me another chance to relive the magic.

Peter Morris

Back in 1964, when I was a student, I wrote to the actor Robert Stephens, then a leading member of Olivier’s National Theatre company, and asked him if I could interview him for a student magazine. He kindly agreed and we met in the pub next to the stage door (then on Waterloo Road) one Saturday afternoon. He gave me a great interview and, from then on, I always used to go and see him in his dressing-room after a performance. Ernie, the stage door keeper, always let me in!

I went to a performance of Strindberg’s The Dance of Death in 1967, in which Olivier played Edgar, a brutish army officer, and Robert played the supporting role of Kurt, lover and protector of Edgar’s wife. I went round, as usual, and found myself following a very tall, sandy-haired gentleman who had asked to see Olivier. It was Danny Kaye, a great friend of Olivier’s. I followed Mr.Kaye round the corner where the No. 1 dressing-room (occupied by Olivier) faced the No.2 dressing-room (occupied by Robert). I paused as Mr. Kaye knocked on the door. It was opened and then I heard Mr.Kaye greet his friend, not with `Larry, you were marvelous’ or some such but with `You Dirty Old Man’!!!! As soon as I went in to see Robert and his dresser, Christopher Downes, I told them. They thought it was hilarious!!

Mervyn and Jill Bryn-Jones

On the 20 May 1970 we went to see Jonathan Miller’s production of the Merchant of Venice for the National Theatre at The Old Vic. It was set in the late nineteenth century with lovely designs by Julia Trevelyan Oman and a starry cast led by Laurence Olivier and Joan Plowright.
We had seats in the front row of what is now the Lilian Baylis circle so we had a good view both of the stage and the Dress Circle beneath us.

In the middle one of Shylock’s speeches an elderly woman came in from one of the exits on the Waterloo Road side of the theatre and walked to the front of the Dress Circle. She stood at the rail and loudly berated Oliver for being an ‘awful man to appear in this wicked play’. Olivier was silenced, as was the theatre.

The ushers sprang into action but she was too quick for them and rapidly disappeared from whence she had come.

Olivier carried on from where he had stopped.

We, and the rest of the audience, sat there nonplussed.

Richard Hope

Richard Hope

Olivier knew how to lunch

In 1978 Laurence Olivier gave me my first main professional TV part in Laurence Olivier Presents Saturday, Sunday, Monday by Eduardo de Filippo. I was fresh from the National Youth Theatre. We rehearsed in The Old Vic theatre rehearsal room. At lunchtime a huge spread was laid on for the cast with waitress service; waitresses wore formal attire. I distinctly remember the whole glazed salmon. I thought if this is the world of TV I want more!! Of course it has never happened again anywhere even though I’ve rehearsed a few plays there (Life After George/Democracy). Olivier looked after me and I will always be grateful for his advice and lunches… All I had to do was tell him three jokes a day… the naughtier the better.

When we recorded SSM at Granada Studios Sir Laurence announced he was feeling unwell and, as producer, his main scene in this Italian story would be shot first. After the scene was complete Frank Finlay came over and asked what was he to do now as he’d used all Frank’s well rehearsed Italian gestures… Sir Laurence turned to me and winked… adding ‘that’ll get him’… he immediately went for a lie down. There was a constant banter between them as they had worked together for so many years on stage.

He cared for his company in such a special way. In 1981 l worked with Laurence Olivier again in Brideshead Revisited in which he played Lieutenant Hooper.

Phyllis Lane

In the early fifties I attended a secondary/modern school at the Elephant & Castle called ‘The Borough Paragon’ as I failed the 11 plus. The main subject subject was domestic/science.The building has been converted into flats long ago.

An older brother went to Brompton Oratory and a younger sister to La Retraite Grammar Schools as both had passed their exams.

They got time and space to do their homework while I was the skivey who cleaned and cooked as the eldest dumb daughter ‘the little mother’ which became my ‘gender role’ then.

My strict English teacher, tall, dark spectacled, Harris-Tweed suited, Miss Hoyle often took us to The Old Vic. I remember seeing Richard Burton’s blackened face and blue, blue eyes from my seat in the Gods when he must have been playing Othello but I can’t quite place the date as it was all of sixty or more years ago.

Another wonderful art teacher encouraged me to apply to Camberwell Art School where I qualified as a teacher in 1960.

I have since spent a lifetime of teaching & enjoying theatre and the arts and encouraging my pupils to do the same! And still enjoy cooking!

I’m forever grateful to those kind teachers who didn’t see me as a ‘failure’ at 11 years of age.

Geraint Thomas

Othello was our A Level English Literature Shakespeare set text at Collyer’s Boys’ Grammar School in 1967. Around 27 Dec, my English teacher, Frank Whitbourn, rang me (yes me!) to say that he had two spare tickets, as he could not make it, for a performance of Othello at The Old Vic a couple of days later. I jumped at the chance! So I and a friend found ourselves in the front stalls, only a few feet from Olivier, Maggie Smith as Desdemona and Frank Finlay as Iago. It was amazing!

Sarah Hampden Smith

After leaving university with a degree in Drama and English from Goldsmiths’ College, I was looking for work as a stage manager in the meantime I worked as an usher/ attendant on the Dress Circle when the Old Vic reopened after it had been bought by Ed Mirvish and the refurbished.

On the opening night of Blondel, Sir Lawrence Olivier spoke a few words from the stage and then returned to his seat in the dress circle. I was privileged to escort him back to his seat from the stage. A great man, who was delightful company in our short acquaintance.

I had a lovely time working at the Old Vic fir just over two years, occasionally taking time off to work as a stage manger elsewhere. There was always a feeling of community as though we were Abigail family somehow.

Happy memories of a special theatre and I still love coming back.

Rosa Bartlett

In the 1960s I was doing my Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme with Drama & Theatre as one part of it.

This meant I had a great excuse, as a teenager, to come up from Kent to The National Theatre at The Old Vic to see plays.

I still have programmes for:

  • The Royal Hunt of the Sun with Robert Stephens and Colin Blakely
  • Othello with Laurence Olivier, Frank Finlay, Maggie Smith, Joyce Redman and Derek Jacobi
  • A Flea in Her Ear with Robert Lang, John Stride, Edward Hardwicke, Margo Cunningham and Anne Godley
  • Much Ado About Nothing with Robert Stephens and Maggie Smith, Frank Finlay  directed by Zeffirelli
  • Miss Julie & Black Comedy with Albert Finney, Maggie Smith and Derek Jacobi

They were brilliant informative and well art directed pieces of work. I remember the pride of owning them, reading them and looking at the stylishness of them in the light of my 1960s teenage groovy world! Nova was my magazine, London Kings Road my shopping Nirvana and the company of actors at The Old Vic my superstars. I wanted to act, later got a place working as ASM at Hampstead Theatre Club where I realised in reality what a hard life it was and, thankfully, that I had no true talent!

These theatre programmes summon up for me such thrilling memories of an amazing flowering of talent under Laurence Olivier at The Old Vic. A halcyon period, at least viewed from outside, by an adoring fan-girl.

Richard Pine

My parents decided to introduce me to Shakespeare at the Old Vic in the late 1950s and early 1960s when a large part of the canon was presented (I was aged about 10 when this immersion started). We have a family shame in the fact that we brought my grandfather to Macbeth and he promptly fell asleep, three rows from the front in the stalls, only to awake loudly with a ‘wazzat?’ at the line – guess what? – ‘Macbeth doth murder sleep.’ We cringed.

But like Michael Rosen, my greatest memory is Judi Dench as Juliet. Like Michael, I was a young boy and wasn’t in a position to appreciate that it was a Zeffirelli production. And like Michael, I was also in awe of the plushness of the theatre, but even more so by the sausage rolls we had in the interval – possibly the finest sausage rolls I have ever tasted.

Four years later, my father bought tickets for The Master Builder. Such was the superb quality of his acting that  it was only as we (not having invested in a programme) exited the theatre and saw the posters that we realised that we had witnessed, as Solness, Laurence Olivier.

My other indelible memory, in 1966, was a seat in the gods (all I could afford as a schoolboy) for Ostrovsky’s The Storm which apparently some reviewers gave a thumbs-down but for me (as a student of Russian language and literature at that time)  was an eye-opener – later to be reinforced by the visceral force of Janacek’s opera Katya Kabanova (libretto from Ostrovsky) when my Czech  friend Albert Rosen (no relation to Michael) conducted it at the Wexford Opera in 1972.

I think this early exposure to the stage (aided by other experiences such as Albert Finney as Luther – but that was in the West End) pointed me towards writing about the theatre, which I have done ever since, specialising in the work of Brian Friel, on whom I wrote The Diviner: the art of Brian Friel (1990/1999) and for whom I wrote programme notes for the Edinburgh Festival and the Donmar Warehouse.

Gordon Vallins

I’m 84 and have intermittently followed the Old Vic over the last 60 years.

In an early life I was a compositor working for a printers in Sussex who, every month, printed, under the editorship of Frank Granville Barker, Plays and Players. He told me, if I was really interested in theatre, to go to The Old Vic, to mention his name and publication for a complimentary ticket. I took advantage of the advice more than once. I was hooked.

Those early visits were rich and extraordinary: Richard Burton and John Neville in Othello; the double bill of Titus Andronicus with Comedy of Errors; Paul Rogers as Lear; an exhilarating production by Tyrone Guthrie of Troilus with Cressida;  Michal Hordern and Flora Robson in Ghosts; and there was Leo McKern in Michael Eliot’s joyous, robust production of the reputedly unstageable Peer Gynt. And during the Vic’s transition in being the temporary home of the National Theatre with memorable productions: Zefferelli’s Romeo and Juliet, Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead and Blakemore’s Front Page.

My only glimpse of Olivier on The Old Vic Stage was in Long Days Journey into Night, and was one of the most devastatingly impressive performances in the whole of my theatre going. I had seen him in Uncle Vanya at Chichester and also The Master Builder in Coventry and Othello in Birmingham, all with echoes of The Old Vic and as special as those performances were they somehow, were for me, not quite as emotionally involving or quite as insightful as his playing of James Tyrone in Long Days Journey.

I remember the Berliner Ensemble’s smooth and sharp production of Brecht/Weill’s Three Penny Opera, Peter Brook’s challenging Oedipus, and more recently O’Neil’s The Iceman Cometh, more latterly Sweet Bird of Youth and Cause Celebre and The Crucible continued the tradition of presenting the great plays with verve and the highest possible professional expertise. And I count myself fortunate in that I have been present at some of the most invigorating and exciting theatre experiences of my life.

Since leaving behind my time as a printer I trained as a teacher, subsequently specialising in drama, and this letter indicates something of my interest and enthusiasm for work of The Old Vic. The last show I saw was Girl from the North Country. It proved to be the most touching and sensitive piece of theatre work I had ever encountered; it didn’t eclipse everything previously experienced, it wasn’t extravagantly dramatic; it was essentially human. There were individual crises in the play but they were all part of a whole. The play echoed more possibly, more profoundly, more expertly than my own particular way of having tried to create theatre with young people.

Thank you Old Vic for continous stimulation over my life time. Long may it continue.

Barbara Harris

I first came to The Old Vic some 50 years ago when it was the home of the National Theatre. The Inner London Education Authority would book all the seats for a mid week matinee with the tickets being sent to schools throughout inner London. As only a few tickets were sent to each school, at my school you only went when in the sixth form but we saw some amazing productions that we still remember.

We were also taken to see a production of The White Devil, an A level text where the director had a quite different interpretation of the play from our teacher which lead to some interesting and quite heated discussions.  School also ran a Gallery Club booking tickets for a Saturday matinee so we did not miss lessons and always for the seats up in the gods where you sat on benches without backs costing something like two shillings.

I have continued to come and have memories of so many productions.  There was a production of Ivanov when well towards the end, as the lead character left to shoot himself off stage, the sound of the gunshot was followed almost immediately by the sound of an ambulance going down Waterloo Road which raised the loudest laugh of the evening.

I hope to be able to continue to come for many years to come and wish you well for your 200th birthday.

Angelo Paragoso

Working as an usher at The Old Vic was my first non-acting job when I moved to London and I still come back whenever I am in between my acting jobs. I will always have an abundance of fond memories of The Old Vic but three things will always be ingrained in my mind: the continuous learning through working here, the wonderful friends I have made whom I consider my family, and the unconditional help The Old Vic gave me to become a British citizen. Thank you!

Jenny Seabrook

I am in my 77th year and am an enthusiastic theatre goer. I was introduced to the theatre firstly by my Grandmother at a very young age. My memories of The Old Vic also go back a long way as I was taken there by my father and that would have been my first introduction to Shakespeare. We used to sit on benches in The Gods, as it was known then, for me it was a very special treat. I remember in particular a performance of Julius Caesar all clothed in togas of course. I have been to The Old Vic many times since those days but the earlier memories are very precious.

Jennie Goossens

The Old Vic  has a very special place in my heart. In 1958 I joined a company created by the then director, Michael Benthall, and led by John Neville, Judi Dench and Barbara Jefford, for a six month coast to coast tour of America which was epic and deserves a chapter of its own! On our return new people joined for the next London season, amongst whom was a fine actor who was to become my husband in 1962, Brian Spink – father of my three children.

Such a beautiful old theatre, and the tales it could tell! Ernie, our wonderful stage door keeper, Mrs Mara in Wardrobe, Enid, the pipe-smoking harpist in the band, the pub (then dangerously next to the stage door on the Waterloo Road!) I could go on…the memories are vivid. It was a special time and The Old Vic was the unforgettable backdrop.

Pauline Sparks

I have very fond memories of you from my childhood.

My aunt Kate used to work back stage and when I was young in the 40’s I used to love going backstage with her to see the costumes etc. I was amazed to feel the chainmail hanging there from a certain performance and  to feel it was knitted string sprayed silver.  I must admit it looked amazingly real.

But the real story I am hoping to relate to you accompanies the attached three photos.

My grandfather, George Sims was the stage manager in those early days.

He went off with The Old Vic theatre company for a world tour in 1939.

The suitcase in the first picture is the case he had with him on that tour – he marked his initials on the front of the case, as you can see.

The itinerary for that tour is pictured here, in his own handwriting.

The tour was over in 1939 and they had only just left Malta when a bomb hit the Valletta Opera house and practically destroyed it.

The building has not been restored and you can see this beautiful edifice still in its bombed state if you visit Malta.

The Itinerary was written for my father, also a George Sims, as my father was also working as a stage hand at that time at The Old Vic and was very interested in what his father, my grandfather, was doing during that tour.

Unfortunately, my dear father never survived the second world war and could not follow a career at The Old Vic, which he would have loved I know.

The Old Vic will always hold a special place in my heart.

Stephanie Jammer

As a huge fan of The Old Vic I think its time to write down my story… or better our story. In this case you can say… The Old Vic brought us together.

Me: Stephanie ( London)

Steffi (Hamburg)

Dagmar ( Cologne)

First time we met was the actors talk with Richard Armitage (in conversation) and later same evening the play The Crucible. We got along  so good that we exchanged telephone and email and since than we met a lot of times in London. Having seen many other performances together (The Master Builder, A Christmal Carol etc).

We spent holidays together in Scotland and now planning the next visits at The Old Vic (Mood Music).


So we can say> The OV- meetings friends for life

Mike Ridley

In 1953, for my 13th birthday, my mother bought six tickets (two boxes) to a Saturday matinee of Twelfth Night for me to invite five friends. My parents knew Gwen Cherrell who was playing Olivia. This was my first Shakespeare play and I assumed I wouldn’t understand a word of it so read the chapter in Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare before the day. That afternoon was magic: Claire Bloom and Robert Hardy as the twins, John Neville as the Count, Paul Daneman as Feste, Richard Burton having a fine time as Sir Toby Belch (although it was a shame to hide his handsome face under all those whiskers, Michael Hordern as Malvolio, the whole company was wonderful – so many heart-throb actors for a teenager to swoon for). And the sets and costumes were beautiful. Of course I had no problem following the play and I gained school cred being able to take my friends backstage afterwards. I was instantly hooked on Shakespeare and saw all the remaining plays in the five-year cycle that The Old Vic had just started. I only missed the two plays that had already gone from the repertory, one of which I saw soon after in a production elsewhere but it took me decades to tick off King John. All my later visits were in the Gods, to eke out pocket money for more plays – not only was I hooked on Shakespeare, I was hooked on the theatre generally and my Saturday afternoons meant a matinee somewhere. I’m sure there are many now-elderly people who were part of the audience during those five years who look back on the experience as an important part of their cultural life. I have the five volumes of text and photographs about those five years which I treasure. Thank you, Old Vic.

Trevor Lee

Remembering Carl Toms

Carl Toms was the most sought-after and successful designers of his generation. He did not just design for the theatre, but for the cinema, the opera and the ballet, in Britain, Austria and the United States during a career spanning some 50 years. His home and birthplace was above the family’s tailor shop on Kingsway in Kirkby in Ashfield, Nottinghamshire England on May 29 1927. Along with the vast amount of work he did for stage, nine films and episodic TV productions, he refurbished the residence of Princess Margaret and Anthony Armstrong Jones and theatres in Windsor, Richmond, Bath and London. He was design consultant for the Investiture of Charles Prince of Wales at Carnarvon Castle (1969) With Wedgewood he designed Tankards for that occasion and another for the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer and in 1997 for the Golden Wedding of the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh. He was recognised with awards in America and by numerous contracts in Germany, Denmark and Austria.

He was at The Old Vic Theatre School in London where under Margaret ‘Percy’ Harris he would have heard her teach with passion ‘the need to study the text’. It was Margaret Harris who fixed him up with, first a trial, and then a permanent engagement in 1952 as assistant to the celebrated designer, Oliver Messel, an engagement which was to last six years.

1959/60 – The Merry Wives of Windsor, The Old Vic

1960/61 – A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Old Vic

1961/62 – The Lady of the Camellias Old Vic Australian/Latin American Tour

1968 April – Edward II, (NT) The Old Vic

Dec – Love’s Labour’s Lost, The Old Vic

1970 Ict – Cyrano de Bergerac, The Old Vic

1995/96 – An Ideal Husband, The Old Vic

In recognition of his accomplishments he received the Order of the British Empire in the 1969 Honours. He died aged 72 at his home in Hertfordshire on the 4 August 1999.

Stephen Greif

Joining The National Theatre at The Old Vic in 1971 with Sir Laurence as my boss has been the most meaningful and exhilarating experience of my career as an Actor, particularly as he was the inspiration and then the reason I became an Actor. Here are four of the very many encounters I had with him over the 2 years I was there and later on when The National were at The Queens Theatre in the West End with he and Zeffirelli directing.

I first auditioned for him in The rehearsal room at Aquinas St in July ’71. I dried up once or twice as the experience of performing speeches in front of him alone just a few feet away and what he meant to me was surreal. I managed to cover up the mistakes but I knew that he knew I was as nervous as anything trying to act in front of him.  He asked me to go to his office where we had a brief chat and he then said the most illuminating thing.  He said ‘You know it’s always good to include a comedic piece in your audition. It says more  about what you can do than anything else’. Nevertheless, He offered me the job understudying Robert Stephens and playing as cast but my instinct led me to decline it.
I next auditioned for him a year later when Tom Baker’s roles in The Merchant of Venice and Woman killed with kindness became vacant. I’d studied the parts beforehand and was startled when I walked back into the Aquinas St Rehearsal room to find ‘Sir’ seated in the middle of a long table with Kenneth Tynan and Michael Blakemore to his right and John Dexter and Jonathan Miller to his left. When you hear of sportsmen being ‘Up’ for the game or ‘In The Zone’ this was how I then felt,  surrounded by the crown jewels of The National Theatre with the diadem in the middle. ‘Sir’ was wearing a neck brace and after doing the two pieces and then talking with all of them, I desperately wanted to wish him a speedy recovery from the  brace but thought better of it. Happily I got the parts and was able to do just that a few weeks later.
I was asked to cover Ronnie Pickup in Michael Blakemore’s famous production of Long Days Journey into Night. Some weeks after the production opened, I was approaching the stage door for the 1.30pm Saturday Matinee when I saw our terrific Company Manager Richard Mangan beckoning to me. I knew at once the kind of news he was about to break . He explained that Ronnie’s voice was shot to pieces as a result of rehearsing in Richard II (Which I was too) during the day and playing Edmund Tyrone at Night. Norman Punt, the most famous laryngologist in the world was with him now and if he could possibly get him on for the Matinee he would but he was definitely to go straight home to bed afterwards and I was ON for that evening. Ronnie barely managed god bless him and during the afternoon performance I ran through my lines with Kenneth Mackintosh our very dear Staff Director in my dressing room.
At times like this a frisson of anticipation runs through the entire Theatre and I had my first taste of it when an hour before the evening show, I was summoned to Sir’s dressing room to go through the 4th act duologue between he and I alone on stage for some 25 minutes or so. ‘Come in Baby, sit down, have a glass of champagne and let’s run the lines’. This was another out of body experience. In ‘Sir’s’ dressing room playing father and son, sipping champers and Sir cracking the odd joke and all to put me at my ease but more seriously to reassure himself that I wasn’t going to let him down. The entire NT and the Saturday night house that had sold out 6 months before. ‘See you on stage’ were his parting words and nearly five hours later I found myself back in his dressing room drinking more champagne and being hugged and fussed over by him for ‘..being a clever boy’.
I went on for more performances the following week and for a month after that, my feet were half an inch off the ground. I never felt quite so elated in all my life and I don’t think I have since with the exception of the birth of our twin sons.
During the run of Death of a Salesman at the National Theatre in 1980, I received a letter and upon recognising the hand writing on the envelope experienced that rare heart thud of anticipation. It was from ‘Sir’ eulogising about me in only the way he could, in the production that he and Joan had been to see a few nights earlier and inviting me and my girlfriend to spend a weekend with them in the country. Can you IMAGINE? As instructed I rang his secretary, Shirley Luke, and fixed a date for some weeks later. But what Gift to bring? I knew he was fond of Jack Daniels whiskey so Judy, later my wife, wrapped it with such thoroughness that Harry Houdini himself would have struggled to get out. Upon arrival at their beautiful house and garden near Brighton and amid much hugging and kissing, I gave Joan Flowers and Judy presented Sir with the tightly wrapped whiskey. Like a complete fool I had forgotten that a few years earlier he had suffered a devastating muscle wasting disease which amongst other things had left his hands and fingers in a very delicate and weakened condition. No matter, he attacked the parcel with rapacious enthusiasm and during the struggle all offers of assistance were brushed aside as he renewed his efforts with greater vigour. Well of course, the wounded Lion eventually tore it open, gave one his famous Olivier screams of delight and it was Jack Daniels all round. Nothing had changed. He was still The great man and my great Hero.
God bless him and Joan and all the cherished memories of The Old Vic Company.