Bristol Old Vic aims for 2009 reopening

Bristol Old Vic could reopen as early as next year, under plans unveiled by the company’s recently-appointed executive chair Dick Penny.

The company – and its home the Bristol Theatre Royal – went dark in August 2007, after the controversial and sudden decision to close the venue for a multimillion-pound refurbishment. The debacle saw the organisation lose both its artistic director Simon Reade and a large portion of its board, including the then-chairman Rupert Rhymes.

But Penny, who was appointed as executive chair earlier this year, has revealed a draft plan which would see an ambitious £15 million refurbishment project put on hold so the company can move back into the Theatre Royal, on a temporary basis, early next year.

In a letter to the theatre’s supporters, he explained: “We intend to once again become an active theatre company from early 2009 and to stay active, working from temporary premises while refurbishment to the Bristol Theatre Royal complex is in progress. Works to repair the external fabric of the building are currently in progress, with further internal safety work scheduled for the autumn. These works will allow us to use the Theatre Royal complex on an event basis until we can move into a temporary home.

“Initial responses to our expanded proposals have been positive and the arts council has said, ‘We are not able to commit additional funds to the BOV capital project at this time, but we suggest you assume for planning purposes that an additional £2 million investment from the arts council is a possibility for a major £15 million refurbishment of BOV’.”

The plan, which according to organisers is still “evolving”, would see BOV stage a number of shows throughout 2009, including modern classics, experimental devised performances, collaborations with companies such as Kneehigh Theatre and a youth theatre festival. This work would be in the Theatre Royal and around Bristol.

Under the proposals, the BOV would not leave the Theatre Royal until it has secured a temporary home to use while a major redevelopment of the site takes place, possibly from 2010.

This revamp would see the historic venue extended to provide up to ten spaces which would be used for performance, teaching, commercial exploitation and development work.

The Bristol Old Vic Theatre School would also use some of these facilities.

While the plans are still at an early stage, further developments are expected over the coming weeks.

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