Over 400 young people take to the stage for the 25th anniversary of Bristol Old Vic Young Company

29 Mar 2019

2019 marks the 25th anniversary of Bristol Old Vic’s mighty Young Company, an award-winning theatre group for 5-25 year olds and the largest of its kind outside London. 

To mark the occasion, Bristol Old Vic is holding a one-day festival - SPRINGBOARD - celebrating all aspects of the Young Company’s work and shining a spotlight on the groups that have grown out of its main mission: to make creative opportunities available to everyone, from every part of the city and every postcode. 

On Sat 6 April, the entire young company (350 young people) will be taking to the stage on the same day, showcasing work that has drawn inspiration from their history and delving into the shows and stories that have been performed by Young Company members gone before. 

In addition, there will be performances from Bristol Old Vic’s satellite theatre groups, run by the Engagement team to allow participation for those outside the central Bristol area; Spark Theatre Makers, Bristol Old Vic’s disabled and learning disabled company will make their debut performance in The Weston Studio, and young company groups from schools in Bristol (Bradley Stoke Community College, Merchants’ Academy and Bristol Metropolitan Academy) will also be taking part, alongside the Adult Company

In total over 456 actors will perform in The Weston Studio and across the building, reflecting every part of Bristol and celebrating the way in which creativity has transformed all their lives.

Beginning in 1994, Bristol Old Vic Young Company (formally called the Youth Theatre) was founded by Bristol Director Sally Cookson (A Monster Calls, Jane Eyre) and Heather Williams (actor and former Head of Education at Bristol Old Vic from 1994-2004). Bristol Old Vic Young Company are recognised as an innovative group of theatre-makers, having won multiple awards for their devised work. They recently performed for The Duke and Duchess of Sussex, Harry and Meghan, during their Royal Visit to the theatre, and have been lauded by former National Theatre director Nick Hytner as “a thrilling group of actors.” 

Engagement Director Lucy Hunt said

“In 2007, when the theatre was on the point of closure and professional productions were not taking place, the Young Company continued, breathing life into the theatre and keeping the heartbeat of the place alive. The organisation wouldn’t be here without them and the future of theatre wouldn’t be possible without the constant influx of talented young people gaining confidence and discovering their voices for the first time in this way.” 

Young Company Director Lisa Gregan continued: 

“Our job at Bristol Old Vic is not just to create actors and directors of the future but, more importantly, to provide opportunities for young people from every part of the city to develop their own imaginative powers, their self-confidence and their voice for whatever the future holds.” 

The evidence is unequivocal that children who have the opportunity to create, gain confidence and social skills which improve every aspect of their lives, from academic attainment and employment to mental health and relationships.  

One such young person is Julia Head. Her first experience of Bristol Old Vic was watching Sally Cookson’s Jane Eyre on a school trip. Julia had always struggled at school, being considered “a disruptive pupil", "without potential" and she was determined she wasn’t going to enjoy the theatre trip – refusing to sit on a seat and watching instead from the steps. 

 She said: “Watching Jane Eyre completely changed the trajectory of my life and I felt as if a new part of my brain had opened up”.

L: Julia Head, R: Jane Eyre, 2014

In quick succession, Julia joined the Young Company, was then accepted on the Made in Bristol scheme (a year-long course at Bristol Old Vic enabling 12 young theatre-makers to learn theatre practice) and is now an invaluable member of the Engagement team, leading workshops and directing productions in her own right. Julia was also accepted as one of five Leverhulme Scholars in 2018 awarding a 12-month bursary to continue her artistic development. 

Another success story from the early days of the Young Company is Stu Mcloughlin. In 1999, he performed in Pericles directed by Sally Cookson. As a professional, he has performed at Bristol Old Vic many times (Up the Feeder, Down the Mouth & Back Again, Peter Pan, Swallows & Amazons) as well as most recently bringing his own theatre company Living Spit to Bristol Old Vic at Christmas with The Nativity

“I was a part of the Young Company for 4 years, from the age of 16 until they (almost literally) had to drag me out of the door on my 21st birthday. I had a fairly typical working-class upbringing, but on joining the Young Company, I suddenly found myself surrounded by people of a similar age, but with class divides gone out the window. All anyone was interested in was theatre and acting.
 Needless to say, I thrived in this atmosphere and grew immeasurably in confidence. I learned so much about acting and drama, but also (and more importantly, I think) I learned about people and about who I was and what I had to offer the world. 
I have now been a professional actor for 15 years. I was at the National Theatre 5 years after leaving the Young Company, and I now run my own Theatre Company. I couldn’t have done any of that without being in the Young Company first. I basically owe it my career.”

L: Stu McLoughlin in 1999 Young Company's Pericles, R: Stu in professional production Peter Pan as Captain Hook in 2013

Springboard will take place on Sat 6 Apr in The Weston Studio, with performances taking place from 11am - 8.30pm throughout the day. All performances are open to the public and free of charge so just come along on the day to watch. Each showing will be filled on a first come first served basis.

1994 All’s Well Behind the Curtain (The first Young Company production

2019 – Hercules (most recent Young Company production, extract performed for the Duke and Duchess of Sussex on their Royal visit (below)

Bristol Old Vic is the longest continuously running theatre in the UK, and celebrated its 250th anniversary in 2016. Under Artistic Director Tom Morris and Chief Executive Emma Stenning, 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 | press@bristololdvic.org.uk