Little Faces in Big Spaces

9 May 2024
Image by Chelsey Cliff

This spring we’ve been working with Redcliffe Nursery & Children’s Centre and St Pauls Nursery to offer our littlest neighbours opportunities to creatively explore this 258 year old theatre.

Using co-creation, we’ve opened the spaces for little faces to explore the boundless magic, wonder and stories held within our walls. 

They’ve laid on beanbags in the roof and gazed at the old timber framing. They’ve clambered over seats in the auditorium in search of hats from audiences past.

They’ve wiggled through a makeshift maze front of house, much to the envy of adult café users who definitely wished they were small enough to join in.

For us born the wrong side of the millennium, it’s hard to imagine what this place must look and feel like on little legs. Yet as such an old theatre, we are regularly approached by kids of the past (aka grown-ups), who spent their early years here. We are blessed to have been visited by several people this year whose parents worked here in the 20th century, and who wanted to come back and associate real spaces with their fragments of childhood memory.

We were visited last month by the children of Inge St George, who worked here as wardrobe mistress in the 1950s. Inge’s son had strong memories of sitting in the wings of the theatre watching the show until his mum finished work. 

Then there was the visit from Rachel Neville Fox, whose parents were actors here as part of the Bristol Old Vic Company. Rachel told us “My father John Neville and my Mum Caroline Neville (neè Hooper) were actors and worked at the Bristol Old Vic after the war. I grew up knowing all about that and many members of the company remained family friends throughout my life.”

And recently we sat and had a coffee with the daughter of Harivold Tailor who worked as our Men’s Tailor. She told us all about her father’s life, career, and legendary shirt making skills. You can learn more about his story in our latest exhibition, Sewn Together, located in the left hand side of the pit passageway.

There is something very joyful about our big Bristol Old Vic family, with people’s connections spanning generations. Children of staff from the 50s, theatre-goers of the 70s, summer school participants of the 2000s (that’s me!), kids of staff today who have literally grown up (and often work) here, and to those little people we are engaging with today in ever more innovative and exciting ways. We hope one day they recant tales of clambering over auditorium seats to their grandchildren.