A Journey South of the River


In 1967, as a 16 year old schoolgirl growing up in a then unfashionable Islington, I was in the middle of my GCE O’levels at Dalston County School in Hackney, another unfashionable area back in the day, when my enlightened English teacher suggested a trip to the theatre. In a place called Lambeth, wherever that was, a theatre called The Old Vic had sent to my school a number of ‘New Audience’ tickets which were available to pupils in inner London boroughs at 7s 6d a ticket (37p today). What a bargain even in those days.

A school friend and I decided to go along, although at first we were very wary about crossing the river and heading south, as most North Londoners are, but we went regardless. We took the 76 bus to Waterloo and walked along the Waterloo Road to The Old Vic sitting proudly on the corner of The Cut. That was the beginning of a love affair which has lasted 50 years.

We were fortunate enough to see our first production when Sir Laurence Oliver was running the National Theatre at The Old Vic. It was his production of As You Like It, with a cast of young actors who were relatively unknown. Derek Jacobi, Jeremy Brett, Ronald Pickup, Charles Kay and Robert Stephens to name but a few. The production was truly amazing for two 16 year olds who had never seen a live performance of any Shakespearean play. Over the next two years, going on to study A level English Literature, we went as often as we could. We saw stunning performances including the debut of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, with John Stride and Edward Petherbridge,  Sir Laurence Oliver in Feydeau’s farce,  A flea in her Ear. We were so lucky to see Olivier in the leading role with a comic timing which was superb. Joan Plowright in Saturday, Sunday, Monday with Derek Jacobi, cooked an Italian meal live on stage. The smell in the stalls was amazing. There were so many memorable productions it is hard to list them all. What an opportunity for two youngsters from a background where theatre was not a part of everyday life, and what an experience to see so many wonderful actors, who are now part of the theatrical establishment. Those performances at The Old Vic became some of the most treasured memories from my teenage years.

I have returned to The Old Vic time and again over the years to see new productions, revivals, classics and watch the theatre grow in prominence. I have introduced my husband and children to The Old Vic and together we have enjoyed a young Ben Wishaw as Hamlet, Andrew Scott and Tom Burke in Design for Living and Robert Lindsay in the 50th Anniversary performance of The Entertainer, Tom Hollander in a revival of A flea in her Ear, High Society and many, many more.

Matthew Warchus as artistic director has taken things from strength to strength. His production of Groundhog Day was brilliant; better than the film in my opinion. The Master Builder with Ralph Fiennes was a classic and to be at the 50th anniversary performance of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, made me feel that I had come full circle

I was extremely fortunate to benefit from the opportunity to visit The Old Vic in 1967. It has influenced the way I have grown up loving live performance and has encouraged me to share my experiences with my family. My adult children are very much Old Vic supporters as Friends and I as an Associate. What a joy to see my name in a programme supporting, in my small way, the good work the theatre undertakes. We will, as a family, continue to support The Old Vic as a world class theatre and a charitable organisation and applaud the collaboration with the Prince’s Trust. I hope this work will continue to expand so that many more youngsters can enjoy what I was very fortunate to have experienced as a teenager over 50 years ago.

Despite my North London prejudice regarding crossing to the south side of the river, it has turned out to be a one of the best decisions I made back in 1967. The Old Vic, in an unknown place called Lambeth, has shaped my appreciation of theatre and live performance. I am reminded of that first visit to see As You Like It each time I walk into the Foyer.

Janet Wiggett

Do you have an Old Vic story to share in the countdown to our bicentenary? We’d love to hear from you

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