Bristol Old Vic announce 2018: Year of Change

28 Nov 2017

Tom Morris and Emma Stenning today outlined the 2018 programme of work from Bristol Old Vic, under the banner Year of Change, which was suggested as a theme for 2018 by Roger Griffith of Bristol Old Vic Associate Company, Ujima Radio.

Bristol Old Vic's aim for 2018 is not just to reopen a brand new Front of House and Studio theatre, thereby completing its multi-million pound redevelopment project, but also to renew its own relationship with the city, both as a place of entertainment and as a place where the most important concerns of the day can be explored, contested, discussed and understood.


Tom Morris today revealed Change as the governing theme for the year, pointing to a context of unprecedented political, social, economic and environmental changes in our world. Exploring some of these ideas, he announced a series of major productions which will play at Bristol Old Vic across the year.

This will include:

  • A brand new translation of The Cherry Orchard from Rory Mullarkey in March. Directed by Michael Boyd, celebrated former Artistic Director of the RSC, for the first time directing a play by the literary love of his life: Anton Chekhov. This mournful comedy, Chekhov's final masterpiece, reels from farce to heartbreak as it maps an insecure world on the brink of seismic change. Written by an artist at the height of his powers and nearing the end of his life, it bridges the divide between the longing to hold onto what is familiar, and the irresistible lure of the new. It will be produced in co-production with the Royal Exchange Theatre, and designer Tom Piper will reconfigure Bristol's 250 year-old auditorium into an 'in-the-round' space. On general sale 17 Nov. The production will transfer to Manchester in Spring 2018.
  • The return of Mayfest, curated by Bristol Old Vic Associates MAYK, brings the change of innovation to a city which thrives on it. This year, Mayfest will once again take over the city with some of the best and brightest theatre from around the world. Bristol Old Vic is delighted to host the festival's flagship production in the theatre where Mayfest began back in 2002.
  • In May, we present the first stage adaptation of Patrick Ness' transformative insight into love, loss and hope, A Monster Calls. Commissioned by Matthew Warchus (alumnus of Bristol Old Vic) this production forms part of the 200th anniversary of our ‘mother' theatre company, The Old Vic, London. This brand-new production is created by Bristol Old Vic Associate Artist Sally Cookson, whose successes with Peter Pan and Jane Eyre (both of which originated at Bristol Old Vic) have won her a global reputation.
  • The ongoing partnership with Bristol Old Vic Theatre School in the summer will be further developed into a three-way collaboration with our new Associate Company, Diverse City. As the theatre industry changes to reflect the diversity of its performers and audiences, the Theatre School's graduating class of 2018 will create a new, professionally integrated production with Diverse City. Speaking at the launch,Emma Stenning said: "Over the last two years we have been thrilled by the reinvigoration of the relationship between Bristol Old Vic and its sister company the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. To be now in a position to develop this further by working with the incredible Diverse City is very special. Their brilliant and enlightening work with us so far has helped us to change the way we think about accessibility and integration on stage and off."
  • In September, Bristol Old Vic will throw open the doors of its brand-new Front of House redevelopment with Tom Morris directing the first stage adaptation of Joe Simpson's memoir Touching the Void, an international bestseller and BAFTA-winning film sensation, looking at personal change in its most vivid and catastrophic form. The heart of the story is Joe Simpson's mental battle as he teeters on the very brink of death and despair in a crevasse from which he can’t possibly climb to safety. Also unforgettable in the story is the appalling dilemma of Simon Yates, perched on an unstable snow-cliff, battered by freezing winds and desperate to rescue the injured Simpson, who hangs from a rope below him. Knowing that they will both ultimately fall into the void, he makes the critical decision to cut the rope, forever changing the lives of both of them. Tom Morris directs a Bristol Old Vic, Royal Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh, Royal & Derngate Northampton and Fuel co-production which also brings award-winning writer David Greig back to Bristol for the first time since his college days. On general sale 17 Nov.
  • In October, Bristol Old Vic will present the joyous Shakespearean comedy, Twelfth Night. This brand new production will be co-produced with the Royal Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh and directed by The Lyceum's Associate Director Wils Wilson (The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart). Wilson's bold and playful style will bring a fresh energy to Shakespeare's mischievous story of identity, gender and love in all its forms. On general sale 17 Nov.
  • And what better way to finish the year off, than with the greatest comedy of change in English literature, A Christmas Carol, depicting the archetypal story of a wicked man who looks at his wasted and cruel life and resolves, successfully, to change everything about it! (Creative team to be announced in January). On general sale 17 Nov.
  • And as our theatre itself reveals a changed entrance and a changed welcome to the city, 2018 will also see Bristol Old Vic opening a new Studio theatre, dedicated to new and emerging work. It will be Bristol Old Vic's telescope into the future of theatre, providing a new home to Bristol Ferment (which has been supporting artists of Bristol and the region for almost a decade) and a space for young people to make and watch inspiring work, both through the award-winning Bristol Old Vic Young Company and the Engagement team’s city-wide collaborations. A full Studio programme will be announced in Spring 2018.


When Roger Griffith first suggested 2018 as a Year of Change, he was inspired by the anniversaries of some significant and powerful advocates for change; by the 50th anniversaries of the assassination of Martin Luther King and the Black Power salute and the 70th anniversary of the voyage of the Windrush, to which we add the centenary of women's suffrage and the bicentenary of the birth of the abolitionist Frederick Douglass. 

As Bristol Old Vic looks to its future, we are also re-examining our relationship with our past and, alongside many others in the city, resolving to look afresh at Bristol's involvement in the transatlantic slave trade, which made it so wealthy and contributed so strongly to many of its most beautiful buildings, including our theatre.

Bristol Old Vic's ambition as a theatre is to be a place where the city can hold itself, its history and its future to account, and where those histories can be re-understood, so we are pleased that our Year of Change can also accommodate this powerful and important conversation.

We are therefore also announcing a major new play about the slave trade, The Meaning of Zong, by Giles Terera, jointly commissioned by the National Theatre and presented and developed with partner theatres in Liverpool, Glasgow and London. It will be presented in workshop form in October 2018 and fully staged in 2019.

These performances will sit alongside a series of conversations curated in collaboration with Bristol’s Festival of Ideas, and will be introduced by a series of City Conversations, jointly organised by The Bristol Post, Ujima Radio and Bristol Old Vic. These conversations will be on topics related to the city’s commemoration of, and attitude towards, the transatlantic slave trade. The first conversations will happen in venues across the city with the final conversation held in the theatre.

Speaking at the launch today, Tom Morris said: "Liberal-minded Bristolian folk like me are often reluctant to talk about the slave trade. When drawn into conversation we tend to bemoan its atrocity and condemn it as an outright wrong, but we moderate our moral judgment by saying that people thought differently in the eighteenth century, that the transatlantic slave trade was a fact of life at that time, that we should be careful not to judge the past by today's standards, because our eighteenth century forbears simply didn't see it as wrong.

In the research for Giles Terera's play The Meaning of Zong, I have discovered that this opinion is startlingly false. A close reading of the primary sources shows that many of those directly involved in the trade knew very well that it was wrong, but found it too difficult politically, economically, and socially to stop. 

So part of the conversation we are going to have connects at root with the role which Emma and I hope our theatre can have in the future in this city. If we are brave enough to judge the people who were involved in the transatlantic slave trade in this city by our own standards, then it becomes possible to judge ourselves by their standards too. It allows us to look at ourselves and our role in the world and ask: what are the things we are doing which we know to be wrong, but which we keep doing, because it is socially, politically and economically difficult to stop doing them? Then we can work out together how we can generate and share the courage and the vision, TO MAKE THOSE THE THINGS WHICH WE START TO CHANGE IN 2018."

Bristol Old Vic is the longest continuously running theatre in the UK, and celebrated its 250th anniversary in 2016. The historic playhouse aims to inspire audiences with its own original productions, both at home and on tour, whilst nurturing the next generation of artists, whether that be through their 350-strong Young Company, their many outreach and education projects or their trailblazing artist development programme, Bristol Ferment.

They use their funding to support experiment and innovation, to allow access to their programme for people who would not otherwise encounter it, or be able to afford it, and to keep their extraordinary heritage alive and animated.

On 24 Sep 2018, Bristol Old Vic completed its 2-year multi-million pound redevelopment project, which transformed its front of house space into a warm and welcoming public building for all of Bristol to enjoy, created a new studio theatre and opened up its unique theatrical heritage to the public for the first time.

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