A fifty year journey
When I was a kid in the 1950s my family would come up to London at Christmas to visit my mother’s sister Ivy and her family.
She lived at the Elephant and Castle in a two bedroomed flat in a tenement called Falmouth Chambers; Ivy, her husband John and their two children. After arriving at Waterloo Station we would walk to the ‘Elephant’ and we would pass The Old Vic.
The streets were darker and dingier then and the theatre was a big plain building, to me, hiding in the shadows. I was always glad to see the theatre; it would be pointed out by my father like an old friend. There were those small glass-fronted poster boxes on the wall, which I would peer into. I can just remember seeing a poster bearing the face of, as I was told at the time, a man called Laurence Olivier. This was somewhere between 1955 and 1960.
My childhood perception of The Old Vic, and theatres in general, was a ‘magical’ place where plays were staged for a lucky few who had a special insight (and income) that enabled them to seek out and enjoy ‘culture’.
Some two years ago I fulfilled my ambition of actually entering the building for a drink at the bar, and soon after we were sat in the stalls enjoying The Caretaker with Timothy Spall. I was on a gallery visit to London and we found ourselves in Southwark so it was my opportunity to enter the building and settle down in the bar. I had finally arrived!
Now, theatre is a vital part of my engagement with the arts. I grew up feeling somewhat deprived; not an affluent home. I have finally reached the point where I can indulge my lifelong love of theatre and drama. Jane, my wife, and I now get to visit many art galleries here and abroad. I teach at my adult art classes here in Gloucestershire.
Jane and I visit London on a fairly regular basis, mostly for gallery visits, but we always keep an eye on The Old Vic’s programme. It gives me satisfaction to think of growing from the little ‘urchin’ peering in at the window to taking my place in the stalls for another excellent production.
Just seeing the building all those years ago made me realise that the ‘theatre’ was something real and attainable. Many things seemed out of reach to me then; great art, great cities and great plays.
The Old Vic was an ‘idea’ for that small boy to aspire to. Now, as an ‘old’ member of the audience I feel that I belong in that audience; I have come home.
Do you have an Old Vic story to share in the countdown to our bicentenary? We’d love to hear from you.