Your Old Vic – a message from Matthew Warchus
I hope this finds you well and coping.
We seem to be turning a corner with the government’s conditional plan to reopen society, but we can expect events like theatre, which involve mass gatherings, will be amongst the last to return. There’s clearly still some way to go before we can resume performances from our stage.
I think, because The Old Vic has been a significant part of London’s theatrical landscape for 200 years, it’s inevitable to sometimes view the lockdown in an historical context. This building has been forcibly closed only once before, for 10 years between 1940–1950, and, as I and the remaining Old Vic team (the vast majority of our staff are currently furloughed) grapple with how to maintain an active readiness to return, I find myself wondering what the brilliant and formidable Lilian Baylis – and her visionary aunt, Emma Cons, before her – would’ve made of the current crisis.
They ran this theatre concurrently from 1880 to 1937 and were fuelled by a determined social mission: to provide a crucial lifeline (and that’s not only a metaphor) for many families and individuals in Lambeth and Southwark. Here’s a characteristically typical quote from Lilian in the midst of the Great Depression of the 1930s: ‘In the meantime we struggle on as best we can. But our work has gone steadily forward and expanded from year to year and I cannot but feel that we must win through in the end to still greater achievement and security’.
Emma and Lilian’s vision for this great 1,000-seat theatre still resonates today and fuels the dual values we have sought to apply over the last five years. Like them, we aim to deliver intelligent, daring and popular entertainment alongside simultaneously finding ways to make day-to-day life better for the various audiences that surround us in Lambeth, Southwark and beyond.
The Old Vic is without question one of the greatest theatre buildings in the world (in my view its auditorium is pretty much unbeatable). Whilst we are very eager for it to be back in action, thanks to the extraordinary generosity and vision of our steadfast supporters, Royal Bank of Canada and PwC, and along with support from the TS Eliot Estate, we’re able to continue to meaningfully connect with our audiences and sustain our social mission through Your Old Vic, even while our doors are closed.
Today I’m very happy to announce this array of free online content which we aim to be fun, engaging, useful and supportive to our various audiences during this difficult time. We are facing a tough and even perilous year ahead, fighting for our survival like so many others in the cultural sector. But whilst our building is dormant, its heart is still beating and our sense of purpose – as an artistic powerhouse, fuelled by a spirit of fun and adventure, with an equally strong social mission – is stronger than ever.