Wherefore art thou dear old vic?
At the turn of last century, 1901 precisely, our dear Queen Vic died. The Victorian age officially over, hers and husband Al’s name continuously synonymous with championing, instigating and supporting education in the arts and sciences lives on. One such venue at the forefront in keeping Al’s dream alive, breaking down boundaries that divide and isolate communities seeking to unite in faithful homage to the traditions of theatre, is of course The Old Vic, resident of The Cut, London. 
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Where did the Old Vic begin?

Designed by Architect Rudolph Cabernel, built in 1816, opened on 11th May 1818, named the Royal Coburg, a Theatre was born adding another degree of versatility in Al’s vision’s in one central hub of creativity, marking the beginning of a continuous love affair with harmonising society through a passion for worlds within words played on a stage. That stage. As Vic did for the V& A Museum Charlotte did for Vic, laying the first stone of the theatre in 1816 along with Prince Leopold Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, Charlotte Augusta of Wales, daughter of the Prince of Wales - latterly George IV, it appears set a precedent for dear old Vic and Al? Certainly Charlotte, by association, started an inextricable link between this theatre and the equality of people who are touched by the place. Surely a metaphor for the equality championed by the arts in the engagement and pleasure for the many not the few? We are in community all on a level stage. Unless of course it is a split-level stage.

A theatre for the people by the people focused on that most nuanced of terms, community cohesion.  If a visual metaphor is required for Vic’s dedication to this none can be more expressive than a sixty two mirrored looking glass installed weighing five tons as a stage curtain in 1821. Reflecting audience’s faces so as to implant one could reasonably assert, a feeling of unity, of community, of ownership and belonging. Current BBC Fellow in Community Theatre at The Old Vic states the theatre: ‘has actually changed my peer’s lives.’ Charlotte has played a continuous intrinsic part then laying the first stone.

Renamed The Royal Victoria in 1833, arguably in preparation for our new monarch, Princess Victoria as she was then, the Old Vic as we now know it was gaining a growing reputation for being a place of inclusive community theatre. Encouraging what was termed ‘Native Dramatic Talent.’ One may conclude from this statement an ethos of accessibility, inclusive promotion of the arts targeted but not exclusively aimed at, the communities of London. So the mirrored curtain may not have been hanging by this point but the metaphor remains extended. As blighty’s monarch changed on 20th June 1837, the latterly termed ’Grandmother of Europe’ – Queen Victoria, and until his death in 1861 husband Prince Consort Albert. Spending the next 63 years sweeping across London. Building inclusive places to breathe life into Al’s dream of accessibility to the many not the few to education in the arts and sciences. Local man of words Charles Dickens wrote of the theatre in 1850, ‘Whatever changes of fashion the drama knows elsewhere it is always fashionable at the New Cut.’ A respected member of London’s literati, Dickens lived and played (pardon the pun) within the area to the south of the Thames home to the theatre. Dickens stands out through his own writings as a fellow supporter of what Queen Vic, husband Al and The Royal Victoria Theatre were striving to achieve; to bring theatre to ‘the common people.’

We see during this period a collaborative movement between Vic, husband Al and The Royal Vic’s theatre in London’s evolution in achieving Al’s dream. Whether or not it was as strategic as this one simply cannot comment with any authority. This written, it does appear to a somewhat untrained eye, perhaps an eye of hindsight, London was opening the once ‘bawdy’ South Bank to the people of the entire city. Indeed the globe, offering ‘great experiences for everyone.’ Shifting culturally perceived norms, extending inspirational warmth, education, a sense of a shared experience synonymous with theatre, dating back to 5th Century BCE Greek amphitheatres, uniting what were then predominantly a series of disjointed Islands together as one community. By shared unity of experience of any given play by progression creating a community spirit, you are not alone. What leads to this ponderous statement is that in 1871 The Royal Vic is renamed and branded as The New Victoria Palace, and by 1873 Queen Vic opens her Alexandra Palace. You may presume this to be another conspiracy theory. Surely the eye of hindsight is in overdrive?



Leading socio-reformer, Ema Cons, located to Vic’s Theatre acquiring the leasehold in 1880, promptly renaming it the Royal Victoria Hall and Coffee Tavern. Shared similes with Royal Al’s Hall opened some nine years previously, 1871, insomuch as community cohesion was playing out across the banks of the Thames, north and south alike, with the birth of a plethora of places of education in the arts and sciences. Con, a social reformer, educationalist and Theatre Manager, was in residence when in 1888-89 The Morley Memorial College for Working Men was founded at Vic’s theatre. Still continuously providing spaces for the many not the few to group together and learn. No succinct strategy between Vic and Al? A question to ponder.

To all intents and purposes a succinct progression in both Al’s dream and the theatre’s own dedication to his vision of inclusivity. Con’s is forever in residence at her memorial garden situated on the corner of The Cut directly opposite the Main doors to Vic’s theatre.

By 1926 a time-served local nickname for the theatre was officially adopted. The Old Vic was born.

 

 
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