Time to Imagine a Better World: Autumn-Winter 21/22

25 Jun 2021
Bristol Old Vic's Autumn-Winter season for 21/22

Bristol Old Vic today announced a bold season for AutumnWinter 2021/22. The programme includes new productions from brilliant talent, long-awaited new dates for world premieres and new ways to share those stories live and online.

“It’s been a year of grief, crushing inequality and devastating hardship for many. The psychological pressure across the population is something which we are only beginning to see and understand.  But there are positives too. The train has stopped and we’ve all got off it. This is our once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to build a better world.

Yes, we can see the obstacles, the leadership challenges, the mistakes, the dishonesty, but our job as a theatre is to hold a space in which we can understand what some of that change might be. We all need a cracking night out this Autumn. We all need the highest quality of theatrical storytelling.  But we need stories of change and challenge too.  

Above all, we need to ask ourselves the question: how can we seize this opportunity to build a better world?”  Tom Morris, Artistic Director Bristol Old Vic

This season is inspired by our Engagement and Talent Development departments and the creativity and resilience of the communities and artists they work with – all fuelled by a successful year of experiments in digital theatre and live broadcasting. A full announcement of Autumn Engagement activities and the reopening of The Weston Studio  the home of Bristol Old Vic’s Talent Development – will be made in September.  

Meanwhile, here are the shows..

  • Giles Terera's The Meaning of Zong (co-produced for BBC Sounds in March) receives its long-awaited theatrical world premiere.  
  • Emma Rice’s latest new production Wuthering Heights will be co-produced with the National Theatre, Wise Children, Bristol Old Vic and York Theatre Royal.  
  • After the enormous successes of Sally Cookson’s Peter Pan and Lee Lyford’s A Christmas Carol, Bristol’s talent hot-house, The Wardrobe Ensemble, present their brand-new work for families this Christmas – Robin Hood: Legend of the Forgotten Forest. Co-produced with Bristol Old Vic.    
  • Mark Rylance makes his Bristol Old Vic debut in the world premiere of Dr Semmelweis – a Bristol Old Vic production in association with Sonia Friedman Productions, the National Theatre and Shakespeare Road.  
  • Sally Cookson directs Wonder Boy – the first play written by award-winning playwright Ross Willis.  
  • Autumn productions will be live broadcast whenever possible, as part of Bristol Old Vic’s new digital commitment.
“The Meaning of Zong is about the value of humanity and what we’re prepared to do to defend that." Giles Terera
The Meaning of Zong is Giles Terera’s timely response to the defining moments of social upheaval the world has witnessed in recent years, and a challenge to achieve the social change that is palpable and necessary today.

Written by and starring Giles Terera, The Meaning of Zong tells of the moment when news of a horrific massacre aboard the slave ship Zong arrived in London, its impact on the early years of the abolition movement and its resonance today. Olaudah Equiano, a British African who had bought his own freedom from enslavement, brought news of the massacre to the attention of the anti-slavery campaigner Granville Sharp when it surfaced in the notorious legal case of insurance at the King’s Bench. In this boldly inventive debut play, Terera traces Equiano’s response to the trial and his own decision to publish the story of his life, the first British black autobiography.

Speaking today, Giles Terera said
: “When I first started exploring this story, I felt very strongly that there was a connection between today and the 18th century when these events took place. History isn’t just history, it’s a continual conversation with the present. It’s a play about us, now.At this moment, there is lot of discontentment, but at the same time there are  a lot of people standing up for people who don’t look like them or live like them. This play focusses on that – as an individual what is your obligation to your society and community? What are you prepared stand up for? What are you prepared to defend?”

Jointly commissioned and developed by Bristol Old Vic and the National Theatre, The Meaning of Zong was presented as a rehearsed reading by Bristol Old Vic in 2018. The pandemic saw it reimagined as a radio play, running on Radio 3 as part of the BBC's Lights Up season in Mar 2021.

The Meaning of Zong
 will finally receive its theatrical premiere in September this year (running 11 Sep – 2 Oct), fulfilling a promise to the city to tell one of the most important stories of social change, about a man whose legacy is still felt today.


“Wuthering Heights has all the darkness that we crave in stories, but at its heart are human beings – not only the pain that we can cause, but the wonder that we can create.”   Emma Rice

Bristol Old Vic is thrilled to present the world première of Emma Rice’s adaptation of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights. This elemental stage adaptation brings new life to the classic story with Rice’s trademark musical and visual style. Rescued from the Liverpool docks as a child, Heathcliff is adopted by the Earnshaws and taken to live at Wuthering Heights. He finds a kindred spirit in Catherine Earnshaw and a fierce love ignites. When forced apart, a brutal chain of events is unleashed.

Shot through with music, dance, passion and hope, Wise Children's Artistic Director Emma Rice (Romantics Anonymous, Brief Encounter) transforms Emily Brontë’s masterpiece into a powerful and uniquely theatrical experience. Lucy McCormick (Post Popular) leads the company of performers and musicians as Cathy in this intoxicating revenge tragedy for our time.

Adapted and Directed by Emma Rice with Composer Ian Ross, Set and Costume by Vicki Mortimer, Sound and Video by Simon Baker, Lighting by Jai Morjaria, Movement and Choreography by Etta Murfitt.

A National Theatre, Wise Children, Bristol Old Vic and York Theatre Royal co-production, Wuthering Heights opens at Bristol Old Vic on 20 Oct, (with previews from 9 Oct) and runs at York Theatre Royal 9–20 Nov and the National Theatre in 2022.


“We can’t wait to do for young people the exact same thing  that happened to us as children – to have the doors of your imagination blown off their hinges!” The Wardrobe Ensemble

Bristol Old Vic’s Christmas shows have a reputation for launching the best of Bristolian talent onto the world stage. Past smash-hit productions include Sally Cookson’s Peter Pan (National Theatre transfer 2016)Tom Morris’ Swallows and Amazons (West End transfer  2012) and Lee Lyford’s record-breaking A Christmas Carol. This year, Bristol Old Vic teams up with one of the city’s most celebrated and distinctive companies; the multi-award-winning The Wardrobe Ensemble, for a fresh spin on the swashbuckling legend of Robin Hood. 

Combining wit, warmth and daring archery, Robin Hood: Legend of The Forgotten Forest (25 Nov 2021 – 8 Jan 2022) is a magical tale about taking aim at the things you believe in, shooting straight from the heart and becoming the hero you were born to be.

When a 21st century kid slips through a crack in the time-space continuum, they crash into the middle of an epic fight between good and evil. It’s Sherwood Forest. The 12th century. An uneasy time of cunning thieves, dastardly villains and karaoke-singing monks. When the corrupt Sheriff of Nottingham sets in motion his vicious plan for ultimate power, it’s up to Robin Hood and the Merry Crew to pull off their toughest mission yet. Can they defeat the Sheriff before it’s too late and the forest is lost forever?

The Wardrobe Ensemble met in September 2010 while training together on the Made in Bristol project at Bristol Old Vic. Since then, they have been making shows and touring them nationally and internationally including RIOT, 33The Last of the Pelican Daughters (Complicité co-production) and Education, Education, Education (Stage Award for Best Ensemble and a Fringe First) which toured nationally, transferring to the West End in Summer 2019. 
Robin Hood: Legend of The Forgotten Forest is the latest family work from the company whose best-loved children’s stories include Eloise and the Curse of the Golden Whisk (The Bike Shed), Little Tim and the Brave Sea Captain, (Bristol Old Vic), and The Star Seekers (National Theatre), The Time Seekers and The Deep Sea Seekers, (all co-produced with The Wardrobe Theatre, Bristol).


"Theatre happens in the hearts and minds and souls of the people watching it… the revival of theatre needs to follow where the audiences are. That may be here in Bristol where we will tell the story of Dr Semmelweis, or in London where I will be bringing Rooster back to life in Jerusalem very soon… I’m particularly pleased that chance has led me to this place, where I’m going to be part of the revival of theatre in the regional cities. I can’t think of a better theatre to do this than Bristol Old Vic"  
                                                                                   Mark Rylance

In January 2022, 18 months on from its original dates, Mark Rylance will make his Bristol Old Vic debut in Dr Semmelweis, a powerful world premiere based on the true story of Dr Ignaz Semmelweis. A radical creative of the medical profession, Semmelweis’ rejection of received wisdom dared him to look at the world differently and held the potential to save countless lives.

But when the medical establishment questions his methods, rejects his theory and doubts his sanity, the controversial surgeon finds that being a pioneer is not enough. Years later, he is haunted by the ghosts of the women he failed to save. Is it too late to convince the medical establishment to see the truth? And if he tries what will be the cost?

Speaking about the play today, Mark Rylance said:: “This is a radical new play which is the story of a particular moment of the advancement of science in human history. Society needs original thinkers, but people who are original thinkers are not always the easiest people to get along with. They’re often renegades or rebels. Dr Semmelweis is one of the most famous examples of this type of person. It’s an ambitious, very exciting project and very personal to me, I can’t think of a better theatre to do this than Bristol Old Vic where I’ve always wanted to act.”

Based on an original idea from Mark Rylance, Dr Semmelweis is written by Stephen Brown with Mark Rylance, and directed by Tom Morris. It is presented in association with Sonia Friedman productions, the National Theatre and Shakespeare Road. Running from 20 Jan – 12 Feb 2022, tickets go on general sale 8 Jul.


 “My dreams for the future are simple ones; making connections, communicating and sharing ideas. That’s the importance of theatre.” Sally Cookson

In March 2022 Olivier Award-winning director Sally Cookson (A Monster Calls, Peter Pan) teams up with Bristol-based writer Ross Willis (Wolfie) to debut his first play at Bristol Old Vic. Wonder Boy is a powerful coming-of-age story of one young boy finding his voice and his power in a world where he doesn’t belong. Running 5 – 26 Mar 2022.

Wonder Boy was first seen in March 2019 as part of New Plays in Rep which showcased some of the Open Session-developed work at Bristol Old Vic in a series of fully-staged and workshop productions powered by the talents of the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School.

Speaking today, Sally Cookson explained why she was so attracted to this work: “I watched the workshop production and was blown away by the writing. I’d never seen a piece of writing that made me feel like this. Ross Willis is a unique writer with a completely individual voice and it felt so important to get Ross into Bristol Old Vic and premiere his first play on the main stage.”

The theatre industry has talked a lot about community over the past year and Sally Cookson’s vision for Wonder Boy is to work hand-in-hand with Bristol Old Vic’s Engagement department to reach marginalised communities across the city whose voices also need to be heard both on and off stage.

This production will include Music by Benji Bower, Set and Costume Design by Katie Sykes, Lighting by Aideen Malone, Sound by Mike Beer, Movement by Laila Dialo and Captioning by Limbic Cinema. Tickets go on general sale 8 Jul.

Bristol Old Vic also outlined its ambitions for continuing its digital theatre promise: to live broadcast as many productions as possible to its flourishing global community.

The theatre’s most recent digital experimentation took place with Touching the Void – using multi-camera capture and surround sound technology to push the digital theatre model further than ever before. The show simultaneously played to a unified in-theatre and global audience and was seen on every continent, reaching from Bristol Old Vic to Canada, Korea and even as far as Antarctica. This digital opportunity allows audiences who may feel unable to attend in person to share in the theatre experience, while also reaching new audiences wherever they may live. 

Bristol Old Vic will build on this throughout the Autumn with a schedule of digital broadcasts to be announced later this month.

THE MEANING OF ZONG Thu 16 Sep at 7pm
DR SEMMELWEIS Wed 26 Jan at 7pm
WONDER BOY Thu 10 Mar at 7pm

To arrange press night tickets or for further information, please contact: 
Amanda Adams, Head of Communications
07957 438 212 /  amanda.adams@bristololdvic.org.uk

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 | press@bristololdvic.org.uk