Bristol Old Vic present Bristol Old Vic Theatre School in Lucy Kirkwood's Hedda for unique experiment

26 Oct 2020

2020-style theatre. How do you like yours?

Following Bristol Old Vic’s Culture Recovery Fund investment, the theatre announces a remarkable collaboration with Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, the next step in a radical journey of online and in-person entertainment which it has been developing in the theatre since the pandemic struck in March.

Through the last 8 months Bristol Old Vic has been striving to keep theatre present in the lives of its community in a series of ways:

  • In April, putting a range of participatory activities online for children all over Bristol.
  • In May, sharing Bristol’s homemade work through Bristol Open Stage Online.
  • In June, with city-wide arts organisations, Bristol Old Vic launched Bristol Arts Channel, containing the theatre’s first season of full-length online shows, playing to audiences of over 350,000.
  • In August, opening the theatre’s socially-distanced Courtyard Stage with theatre, poetry and music, plus new work-in-progress through Bristol Ferment and a Zoom/live theatre show, Buffering, created by the young talent of Made in Bristol.
  • In September, partnering with Wise Children for the pioneering live-stream of Romantics Anonymous, selling over 10,000 tickets within a single week with an estimated audience of over 20,000 tuning in.
  • In October, reopening the Theatre as a socially-distanced space with Toby Jones’ Desert Island Theatre, Private Peaceful and a series of talks for Black History Month.

Bristol Old Vic’s aim is to reopen the theatre safely for live performance while launching a new offer of live online theatre alongside it. To get this right, the experimental work continues.

This November, Bristol Old Vic joins forces with Bristol Old Vic Theatre School for a startling experimental production of Lucy Kirkwood’s Ibsen-inspired fantasy Hedda. The production will play simultaneously to a live audience in the theatre, once called “the most beautiful in the world” (Peter O’Toole), and a paying audience in the comfort of their own homes, while seeking to capture the magic of live performance in our atmospheric theatre, so that it can be experienced in real time nationwide and beyond.

For the first time, Bristol Old Vic Theatre School’s graduating year of actors and technical theatre students will be joined by the school’s film students for this unique experiment.

Working with cinematographer Mike Fox and Bristol Old Vic Artistic Director Tom Morris, the students will attempt to capture the liveness of the event in a way that celebrates the famous intimacy of Bristol Old Vic’s historic Theatre and borrows from stylistic innovations in TV coverage of sport, music and comedy.

Directed by BOVTS Artistic Director Jenny Stephens, Hedda is a bold new version of Ibsen’s tragic masterpiece, Hedda Gabler, and was first seen at The Gate theatre in 2008. In Kirkwood's version, Ibsen’s nineteenth-century heroine is relocated to present-day London, to startling effect. Hedda, still mourning for the father she adored, returns from honeymoon with a husband she doesn't love, to a flat and a pregnancy she doesn't want. A “Hedda for our times” (Guardian), she is trapped by her past and terrified of her future, and finds herself caught between three men. In the end, something has to give.

The announcement of this collaboration also marks the Theatre School’s 74th birthday and the first production of new Principal/CEO Fiona Francombe’s tenure. Previously founding Director of The Bottle Yard Studios in Bristol, she took up her role as Principal of the prestigious Theatre School in the Summer.

Speaking today Fiona Francombe said: “Bristol Old Vic and the Theatre School have nurtured and enjoyed a close partnership for over 70 years and I'm delighted we are once again working collaboratively this Autumn. Performing and working in professional theatre venues is an essential part of our students’ training and I’m pleased the School is playing such an important role in the reopening of the theatre industry, especially in Bristol.

On a personal level, I’m excited to see the production of Hedda come together; the marrying of in-person theatre with livestream cinematography aims to provide a unique and immersive experience, making it possible for those who cannot be there in person to enjoy the thrill of live performance.”

Bristol Old Vic Artistic Director Tom Morris said: “Even in the eye of the pandemic we are following the inspiring experimental values of our trusted collaboration with Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. Over the last 5 years we’ve seized a series of opportunities to work with the school; from the definitive generation gap King Lear with Tim West, Stephanie Cole, David Hargreaves and the entire graduating year of 2016, to the New Plays In Rep season which unveiled a field of astonishing talent in 2019. This year, Hedda will allow both theatre and school to leap much further into the experimental world of live-stream hybrid than either of us could by ourselves. There will be shots you would never expect to see in streamed theatre. There will be camera techniques more familiar from sports and wildlife TV than theatre capture.  And there will be discoveries which will shed new light on this pioneering field.”

Tickets for the socially distanced in-person audience at Bristol Old Vic will go on general sale Thu 29 Oct at 2pm. Online tickets will be launched at the start of November alongside a range of in-person and online entertainments for November and the launch of Bristol Old Vic’s Christmas programme.

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.

Press Office: 0117 949 4901 |