Halloween Stories


When you’ve been around for over two centuries, you develop an impressive arsenal of spectres. Are they the product of an over active imagination, a sad coincidence or a genuine ghosty? You decide…

1. The final bow

The ghost of a woman with bloodstained hands is said to be seen haunting The Old Vic. But it’s not quite as gruesome as it sounds – apparently, the blood is actually stage make up and our spectre is an overly committed actress refusing to take her final bow. Bravo, we say.

2. The Boxing Day curse

When The Royal Coburg (as we were called) opened in 1818, the theatre held 3,800 people. Today, the entire house holds 1,077. More people than would today fill the entire theatre used to be squeezed into the gallery. Unsurprisingly, conditions were precariously cramped and this came to a head at the incredibly popular Boxing Day performances. In 1848, two boys were crushed to death on the staircase in the rush to the gallery. 10 years later, an actor’s wig caught on fire and a second set his own costume on fire whilst trying to put it out. As the audiences tried to flee, 16 people lost their lives in the rush. A decade later, Boxing Day ticket prices were increased in the hope of avoiding any more a crush, but the incensed crowd refused to pay, crushing 11 year-old Peter Fleming on their way out. Over three decades, 19 people were lost in the Boxing Day crush.

3. Lilian Baylis

Lilian Baylis dedicated her life to managing The Old Vic. She died of a heart attack on 25 November 1937, the night before the opening of a production of Macbeth starring Laurence Olivier and Judith Anderson. At the beginning of each season, she traditionally gave each member of the company a sprig of heather. But the autumn before her death, she gave everyone rosemary, for remembrance. It is said that Lilian can be heard playing her violin into the night after the audiences have returned home – some say that if you happen to be around after everyone has gone, you might just catch a glimpse of ‘The Lady’ herself.

4. Who moved the door?

During the refurbishment of the theatre in the 1980s, the stage door was moved. Seemingly unaware of the reroute, the ghost of a ballerina has allegedly been seen running through the wall where the door used to be.

5. Explosion by candle light

In 1826 the theatre was lit entirely by candlelight. One evening a canister of stagnant water was discovered and three men were sent to investigate. Unfortunately, the stagnant water turned out to be gas, and as the men peered in with their candles to take a look, the gas lit and the explosion blew the back of the theatre clean off. Two of the men survived but one fell victim to the blast.

6. Paranormal activity

Many actors that perform on The Old Vic stage talk about sensing the spirits of past actors. But some have gone further and seen ghostly spirits, such as one actor who saw a white figure walking down the stalls during a performance of Hamlet in 2004. Another actress was sitting in the box and noticed that the door knob was turning as if to open. When she opened the door, she found no one on the other side…

7. Forward planning

‘The days I’ve spent in this building, both making and watching theatre, have been some of the happiest of my life. The Old Vic is a beautiful, inspiring, historical space being run by lovely, inspired and hard-working people. I hope to keep coming here until I shuffle off, and intend to haunt it subsequently.’ Tim Minchin

We look forward to it, Tim.

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