Bristol Old Vic announces its full 2020 programme: Year of Artists

14 Nov 2019

2020 Year of Artists: A celebration of creativity in everyone

Mark Rylance to headline, joined by a host of leading theatre-makers, up-and-coming artists, and you.

Bristol Old Vic today launched its 2020 programme of work, Year of Artists – shining a spotlight on the role of artists in a changing world, and celebrating creativity in us all. Work from some of the most incredible talent in British theatre today (from Emma RiceSally CooksonJoel Horwood and Maria Aberg) sits alongside dazzling new writers and artists (such as Ross Willis and Miranda Cromwell) and opportunities for everyone from across the region, regardless of age, experience or background, to get creatively involved.

The year starts with two of our Associate Companies; Kneehigh, and Bristol’s own Wise Children, sharing their astonishing story-telling skills. Emma Rice’s irresistible musical Romantics Anonymous is revived at Bristol Old Vic for its only UK date ahead of a run in the USA while Mike Shepherd and Carl Grose’s Ubu! A Singalong Satire will wow you at The Marble Factory in January.

The early part of the year is also home to some of the many productions supported by our Artist Development strand, Bristol Ferment, providing artists with support to develop their own unique voice. This includes Ferment-supported work Mid Life (presented by Diverse City) and the twice yearly Ferment Fortnight, which throws open the rehearsal room doors to show the latest work-in-progress from some of the finest talent in the region.

Returning in 2020 – The Wardrobe Ensemble company were formed through Bristol Old Vic’s Made In Bristol scheme – an apprentice training programme for older Young Company members to develop into professional theatre-makers. In February they are welcomed home to Bristol Old Vic with a special re-staging of their first production RIOT to celebrate Made In Bristol’s 10th Anniversary. In April, they’re back with The Last of The Pelican Daughters (co-produced with Complicité and Royal & Derngate, Northampton) their latest work which was first seen at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2019, coming to the Theatre as part of a UK tour.

And at the very beginning of their own imaginative journey – our award-winning Young Company continue to develop their own creative voices with a powerful new translation of Antigone by Anne Carson, taking place in The Weston Studio in January. This is just one of the many ways we are engaging with young people across the city, helping to develop creativity and confidence while also having fun.

Because creative opportunities are for everyone, we’re supporting that creative spark in every adult in Bristol through our Adult Company, and our community and business partnerships, and using those opportunities to strengthen the most vulnerable members of our communities too. More details will be announced on 4 December of how everyone can participate and how we’ll be reaching into our communities through the year.

In March, we welcome back Headlong (People, Places and Things; Acts of Resistance) in a co-production with the Lyric Hammersmith Theatre, and in association with Birmingham Repertory Theatre, with Faustus: That Damned Woman. This astonishing re-imagining of the myth of Doctor Faustus is from award-winning playwright and theatre-maker, Chris Bush, directed by Caroline Byrne, and will visit Bristol Old Vic as part of a UK tour which begins at the Lyric Hammersmith in January 2020.

There is also the welcome return of Bristol’s biennial festival Mayfest. Mayfest began here in 2003 and has exploded into a city-wide festival of international renown. Produced by our Associate Company MAYK, Mayfest welcomes Bryony Kimmings back to the theatre with her rapturously-received autobiographical show I’m a Phoenix, Bitch, following a sell-out run at the 2019 Edinburgh Fringe. Mayfest will also host the first visit to Bristol from the one-man phenomenon, Le Gateau Chocolat with his brand-new show Pandora.

On Bank Holiday Monday (25 May), the theatre’s annual celebration of the creative magic and madness found in every Bristolian is back with Open Stage. For one day, we hand over the stage to anyone who wants to show the world what they’ve got. Open Stage began in 2016 to celebrate the Theatre’s 250th birthday and is now a firm part of our year’s programme, open to absolutely everyone.

In June, Mark Rylance will make his Bristol Old Vic debut in Semmelweis, a powerful world premiere based on the true story of Dr Ignaz Semmelweis. Semmelweis was a radical creative of the medical profession whose rejection of received wisdom dared him to look at the world differently and held the potential to save countless lives. Based on an original idea from Mark Rylance, Semmelweis is written by Stephen Brown in collaboration with Tom Morris and Mark Rylance. It is presented in association with Sonia Friedman productions, the National Theatre and Shakespeare Road.

This is followed by another new production, Gatsby, from Bristol Old Vic in co-production with Northern Stage, English Touring Theatre, Royal & Derngate, Northampton, Oxford Playhouse, Lyric Hammersmith Theatre and Birmingham Rep. Originally commissioned and developed by Royal & Derngate, Birmingham Rep and English Touring Theatre, Gatsby is adapted by Maria Aberg and Joel Horwood, and directed by Maria Aberg ([BLANK], The White Devil). A vivid and unique reinterpretation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel, Gatsby premieres at Bristol Old Vic in September. 

In October, the first main stage production to come from the Writers Department premieres. Olivier-winning director Sally Cookson directs Wonder Boy, a new play selected for development through Bristol Old Vic’s annual “Open Session” for West Country writers. Bristol-based writer Ross Willis teams up with Sally Cookson to bring this powerful coming-of-age story to the Theatre.

Wonder Boy was first seen in March 2019 as part of New Plays in Rep which showcased some of the Open Session-developed work in a series of fully-staged and workshop productions powered by the talents of the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. New Plays in Rep will return in June 2020 with a new selection of the freshest new writing in plays and musicals.

Next Christmas, former Bristol Old Vic Young Company director Miranda Cromwell, co-director of this year’s West End sensation Death of a Salesman, will be returning to Bristol to direct The Little Mermaid with a narrative championing environmental messages about us all being able to make a difference no matter how little we are.

We’re also committed to celebrating the shows audiences have loved with the return of Sally Cookson’s Olivier Award-winning A Monster Calls (an Old Vic production, in association with Bristol Old Vic) and the smash-hit Pride and Prejudice* (*sort of) (co-produced with Royal Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh, Tron Theatre Company and Blood of the Young). Also returning is our increasingly celebrated dance programme (this year including LaberintoRambert2Candoco and Akram Khan) alongside OperaUpClose with Madam Butterfly after their successful La Boheme in 2019.

As always, our year is full of inspiring visiting work from some of the most exciting artists and work made and premiered in association with homegrown talent, showcasing a plurality of creative voices and offering something for everyone in the city. Visiting work includes: The Political History of Smack and Crackwinner of Summerhall’s Lustrum Award in 2018; RUSH: A Joyous Jamaican Journey, telling the story of Reggae music from the arrival of the Windrush generation; I Think We Are Alone, a brand-new production from Frantic Assembly who celebrate their 25th anniversary this year (written by Sally Abbott, co-directed by Kathy Burke and Scott Graham). We will showcase new work in association with some of the region’s brightest talents: the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School with The Laramie Project directed by Nancy MedinaWhat Remains of Us (in association with Bath Spa productions) from playwright David Lane, directed by Sita Calvert-Ennals, looking at a Korean family divided by one of the world’s most militarised borders; and Patrick Marber’s The Red Lion, exploring the passions and conflict that run deep in non-league, semi-pro football, starring Bristol’s Joe Sims (Broadchurch).

And because first encounters with theatre are often through our work for young children, we have a host of options for families – from the smallest toddlers (Zog and The Very Hungry Caterpillar Show) to work for primary-aged live-wires (Shlomo’s Beatbox Adventure for Kids and the return of Le Navet Bete’s The Three Musketeers: A Comedy Adventure). For brave children who like their tales a little more spooky, we are co-producing Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean’s modern classic The Wolves in the Walls with Little Angel Theatre and York Theatre Royal.
Speaking today, Tom Morris said:
“Great artists can see round corners. Their view of the world is unique and their gift is the ability to communicate that view to the rest of us. That’s why we love the work of Bob Dylan, or Picasso; Stormzy, Shakespeare or Sarah Kane. But our 2020 Year of Artists isn’t just about them. Because exactly that same creative spark is in the rest of us; every child in school, every professional in the workplace, every patient in hospital, every citizen in a healthy society. The evidence of this year’s Durham Report is that creative opportunity is transformative for every child in every school, and our contention is that it’s equally valuable for all of us throughout our lives. This year is a celebration of the creativity in us all, and a clarion call for increased investment in creative opportunity for everyone.”

We’ve also looked at our ticket pricing and listened to audiences to improve access for our studio work. Beginning in January, a flat £12 Weston Studio ticket price will be available for everyone, while Ferment Fortnight, Studio dance piece Laberinto and the new “Student Rush” tickets are all still under £10.

Tickets for the full 2020 season go on sale to Artists Circle on 15 Nov at 10am, to Friends on Mon 18 Nov and on general sale at 10am on Thu 21 Nov.

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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