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Old Vic unveils ambitious revamp to ‘secure future’

The Old Vic. Photo: Manuel Harlan The Old Vic. Photo: Manuel Harlan
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London’s Old Vic has outlined plans for a major refurbishment, warning the theatre could close without the upgrades.

The plans focus on enlarging the foyer space and increasing bar provision within the building, as well as addressing the “woefully inadequate” provision for disabled audience members and more than doubling its toilet provision for women.

According to planning documents seen by The Stage, the improvements will “increase revenue to safeguard the long-term future of the theatre” and enable it to “survive for another 200 years”.

Artistic director Matthew Warchus described the work as a “pivotal moment” for the theatre, adding that without it “there’s a genuine risk that the Old Vic will cease to exist as a theatre producing work, or potentially as a theatre at all”.

Under the plans, the existing foyer area of the theatre would be reconfigured to create a “new inner foyer and box office”, with the current box office becoming a “full bar”.

The Theatres Trust, which has responded to the plans, said the venue could open the foyer bar as a daytime cafe, adding that this would provide the organisation with additional revenue.

In the planning documents, Lambeth Council licensing officer Esther Jones warns that the current foyer is overly crowded, with the stairs leading to the first floor and the basement “seriously obstructed” by people going up and down or waiting to get drinks.

“It is my considered opinion that the whole foyer layout needs to be reconfigured. In its current configuration, it is a pickpocket’s paradise and God forbid we should have to evacuate the basement in a hurry, especially during the interval when the exit to the street is unavailable,” she says.

Executive director Kate Varah, writing in a statement of proposal seen by The Stage, says doubling the number of female toilets will “improve circulation from reduced queuing”. She adds that it will also allow the theatre to “grow strands of income” because customers will be able to “use the interval to buy a programme, ice cream or drink in addition to going to the toilet”.

She warns that the current number of toilets for women and disabled people is costing the theatre bookings.

“The current low number of toilets for female and disabled users leads to lengthy queues pre-show and during the interval and crowded foyers, which consistently attract criticism from audiences and the press, which we believe impacts booking,” she writes.

“As an independent, not-for-profit theatre receiving no public subsidy, it is important for us to be able to grow strands of income such as this to be able to survive for another 200 years,” she adds.

Varah also says that provision for disabled audience members is currently “woefully inadequate”.

The proposed scheme allows for a “fully accessible entrance on Waterloo Road”, with a platform lift that will allow wheelchair users to visit the downstairs cafe bar, Penny, collect their tickets from the box office and access part of the new foyer space on the ground floor.

In addition, the plans include increasing the maximum number of seats for disabled people in the auditorium, from the current two to 10.

Seats removed from the rear of the auditorium will be relocated within the stalls and upper circle.

Varah states: “The challenges of operating an 1818 theatre in 2017 are varied and many. We must respond to keep this much-loved, iconic theatre open, full and serving its community.”

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