The Theatres Trust

Bristol Old Vic

  • Theatre ID
  • Built / Converted
  • Dates of use
    • 1766: Continuing
  • Current state
  • Current use
  • Address
    King Street, Bristol, Avon, BS1 4ED, England
  • Website


A theatre of outstanding historic interest, occupied by a company of national stature. The auditorium is a remarkable survival of an eighteenth century city theatre, with similar dimensions to the contemporary Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. Whereas it is thought that Drury Lane may have had a slightly fan-shaped auditorium with tiers facing the stage on a shallow curve, the balconies at Bristol are fully semi-circular in the centre, and very nearly parallel at the sides. Stage-boxes are framed between giant Corinthian pilasters. The stage originally projected as far as the outer pilasters, but has long been cut back to the inner pair, and the crucial Georgian proscenium doors removed. As first built the theatre had a stalls circle of boxes and one tier above. In about 1800 a further tier was added with a deep gallery in the centre. The ceiling slopes steeply upwards from the line of the outer pair of pilasters to the back of the gallery. The tier fronts are supported by slender fluted columns at 2.75m (9ft) centres. Most of the delicate gilded filigree decoration on tier fronts, pilasters and ceiling dates from the early and mid-nineteenth rather than eighteenth century. In 1972 the whole structure of the 18th century stage house with its splendid Victorian machinery was demolished, an incredibly destructive act, and rebuilt with an inappropriately flat stage instead of the raked stage that the form and sightlines of the auditorium demand. Surprisingly, the opportunity to restore the original apron and proscenium arch doors was not taken. A sad memorial, a model of the stage machinery was put on display in the theatre foyer in 1981. In 1972 W Skinner’s mediocre 1903 entrance front was also demolished and replaced by a new studio theatre by Peter Moro, the New Vic, itself now of interest as an important work of its time. A new entrance was made through the adjacent imposing mid eighteenth century façe of the former Coopers’ Hall. The opportunity was lost at this time to make use of the fine hall at first floor level as the main saloon for the theatre. It now forms the well and landing of a staircase leading from ground floor to first balcony level.

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Auditorium of the New Vic, Bristol, 2001
© Ian Grundy

Auditorium of the New Vic, Bristol, 2001
© Ian Grundy

Auditorium of the Theatre Royal, Bristol, 2001
© Ian Grundy

Auditorium of the Theatre Royal, Bristol, 2001
© Ian Grundy

Auditorium of the Theatre Royal, Bristol, 2001
© Ian Grundy

Rear circle at the Theatre Royal, Bristol, 2001
© Ian Grundy

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  • Other names
    Theatre Royal
  • Events
    • 1766 Use: Continuing
    • 1766 Design/Construction:
      • Thomas Patey - Architect
    • 1766 Owner/Management: Powell, Holland and Clarke
    • 1773 Alteration: Possibility that square columns in auditorium, if ever they were there, were changed to slimmer columns
      • Unknown - Architect
    • 1790 Alteration: Ceiling raised; boxes newly lined; theatre redecorated
      • Thomas French - Architect
    • 1800 Alteration: Facade altered; further tier added in auditorium
      • James Saunders - Architect
    • 1817 Owner/Management: Lease acquired by Boles Watson, who owned theatres in Gloucester and Cheltenham
    • 1819 - 1829 Owner/Management: Macready
    • 1829 Owner/Management: Richard Brunton
    • 1833 - 1853 Owner/Management: Mrs Macready
    • 1853 Owner/Management: James Henry Chute
    • 1853 Alteration: Refurbished, redecorated, painted and gilded; new act drop
      • Unknown - Architect
    • 1867 Owner/Management: Chute removed his HQ to the Princes Theatre (which he built and called The New Theatre Royal) in Park Row, and put a manager in
    • 1878 - 1881 Owner/Management: George and James Chute (sons of James Henry Chute)
    • 1881 Alteration: Auditorium altered, cutting back stage by 5ft; ‘Phipps Patent chairs’ installed, star-studded ceiling and new ventilator enclosed in heavy gilt moulding; painting/scenery stores and dressing rooms at rear; understage machinery overhauled
      • C J Phipps and T Pope (City Architect) - Architect
    • 1903 Alteration: New façade and iron portico; new dressing rooms, secondary lighting system (gas) installed; new fire curtain installed and proscenium modified
      • W Skinner - Architect
    • 1925 Owner/Management: Millar (private ownership)
    • 1942 Owner/Management: Trust created on expiry of lease and funded by the CEMA (Council for the Encouragement of Music and the Arts), making it virtually the first state-run theatre in the country
    • 1943 Alteration: Repaired and redecorated
      • J Ralph Edwards - Architect
    • 1944 - 1948 Alteration: Array seating system; upper circle bar removed; new box office
      • J Ralph Edwards - Architect
    • 1949 Alteration: Sprinkler system, electrical secondary lighting; new exits constructed
      • Tony Horgan - Architect
    • 1951 Alteration: Reseated and re-raked
      • Unknown - Architect
    • 1952 Owner/Management: Arts Council withdrew in favour of Old Vic Trust, setting the way for a new management
    • 1963 Owner/Management: Bristol Old Vic Trust
    • 1972 Alteration: Stagehouse rebuilt; new entrance made through Coopers’ Hall; façade replaced; studio theatre built behind new façade
      • Peter Moro - Architect
    • 2007 - 2008 Alteration: Closed for refit
    • 2011 Owner/Management: Bristol Old Vic and Theatre Royal Trust (formerly Bristol Old Vic Trust)
    • 2011 - 2012 Alteration: Refurbishment
      • Andrzej Blonski Architects - Architect
  • Capacities
    • Original: 1600
    • Later: 1946: 610
    • Current: 668
  • Listings
    • Grade I
  • Stage type
    • Proscenium. Originally raked, now flat
  • Dimensions
    • Stage dimensions: Depth 1946: 27ft 6in 1994: 13.72m Width 1994 SL: 4.42m SR: 14.02m
    • Proscenium width: 1946: 25ft x 20ft 1994: 7.72m x 6.20m
    • Height to grid: 1946: 29ft 1994: 15.24m 30 counterweights
    • Orchestra pit: 1946: 20 1994: 12 7 Dressing rooms accomm

Of the period

Façade of the former Theatre Royal, Derby, 1987
Theatre Royal (Derby)

Have you seen?

Auditorium and grid above, Young Vic, London
Young Vic

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