The curtain will go-up, the show will go on!

Lilian Baylis, niece of The Old Vic treasure Ema Cons, in true inclusive passion of the arts also believed great art is for everybody. Sharing many of the values Prince Al and Queen Vic of years past strove so passionately to facilitate. In that year, 1914, in typical forward thinking fashion, The Old Vic, still named The Royal Victoria Hall and Coffee Tavern at this time, staged over the next seven years the first folio of Shakespeare’s works. This was the first undertaking of its kind by any theatre.

As the First World War came to a close in 1918 The Old Vic celebrated its centenary year. Baylis reputedly saying to Queen Mary, “Your dear husband’s picture isn’t as big as Aunt Emmie’s [Emily Conns] but then he hasn’t done so much for The Old Vic.” A rip-roaring statement of a female’s fight to flourish, asserting herself as the rightfully respected head of a movement spanning not just her lifetime but many generations to follow.  In fact, it is reported Baylis once threated to come back and haunt The Old Vic if her aunt’s work ever be put at risk. The work she is of course referring to is to make enjoyment and education in the arts accessible to as many people as possible regardless of class.

As the new century ploughed on, Britain still rebuilding itself after the war, a brief encounter between Baylis and Ninette de Valois, a talented young Ballet dancer later known affectionately as ‘Madame,’ secured Valois a position heading up a collaborative company latterly formed as the Vic -Wells Ballet Company. Valois was formerly hired in 1925 with the new company opening at The Old Vic in 1931with Anton Dolin on October 24th at 2:15 pm. Valois was later to become “the principal driving force in British Ballet for more than seventy years,” dying at a grand age of 102 in 2001. So, this brief encounter really did pay off for her then. And quite right too. Baylis was recorded at the time as stating: “Miss de Valois is going to run her school with the Vic and when we have Sadler’s Wells she’ll run a wholetime ballet company for us.” A united company, both the Wells and Vic-Wells brought under the management of Baylis, strove to unite communities. Providing opportunities in north and south London to embrace great art, build community cohesion in accordance with Vic and Al’s dream, to bring education in the arts to the many not the few. There is a lesser known story circulating the walls of the theatre: during this period the stage was transported between London and Saddlers Wells by carthorse as Baylis did not want to pay for petrol. A carpenter who worked opposite The Old Vic told Baylis to go home and have a word with God when faced with a bill of thirty bob to fix a piece of wooden scenery. Baylis reputedly went home, had a word with God and came back the next day saying “God has said he can do it for a crown!”

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"The Old Vic. By the people for the people!"

As the Second World War gripped our nation, an estimated 5,896,000 men taken from our once green and luscious land to fight, dear Old Vic partnered in true inclusive tradition with the Vic Wells Ballet Company, latterly the Royal Ballet Company in Birmingham, to entertain, engage and inspire our nation and its allies in far-flung shores of our globe.  This it can be argued marked the beginning of a far-reaching initiative to bring access to the arts to the nation and latterly nations across the waters like America.

By 1970 the Young Vic opened as a feeder to The Old Vic reaching out to inspire and continue the reach of community cohesion. 

It appears then that dear Old Vic is not only a mainstay powerhouse of community cohesion through uniting communities in true traditions of the theatre, binding through shared experience, it is also a remarkable “of all time” vehicle driving sexual equality. The Old Vic has within its very fibres a mantra of equality. In later years Maggie Smith famously remarked of critics to her Hedda Gabler “I wish a women could review the play. She would understand about Hedda.” Hedda is of course the main protagonist in the play and a character perpetually tossing and turning in emotional turmoil and a somewhat deep sense of injustice.

A female fight to flourish continues with a new Charlotte Augusta of Wales, a new Ema Cons, a new Lilian Baylis, one Sally Greene. Sally is a talented entrepreneur in the arts and entertainment industry. As owner of The Richmond Theatre Sally also acquired the rights to the Old Vic Charity Trust 2000 in 1998. Thus saving dear Old Vic from any one of a number of alternative uses up to and including suggestions of a pub, a lap-dancing club or a bingo hall. I mean, come on, really? 

Sally is also founding Director of The Old Vic Theatre Company and Old Vic Productions. Oh and two top restaurants to boot. I think it is true to write that The Old Vic as we know it has forever been in the loving and capable arms of metaphorical mothers, guiding, fighting for and uniting communities through the pearly gates of heaven, also known as Stage Door. 

The Old Vic, instigated by Charlotte who laid the first stone in 1816, itself an extended metaphor for laying the first stone not just of the physical building but of a continuously engaged place of education and art accessible to the many not the few. Spearheaded by Ema, continued by her niece Lilian and Ninette, brought forward by Sally, reaching out via Clemmie, Alex and others in the Old Vic New Voices scheme designed to engage, inspire and unite new audiences, reaching out across our once green and lushes land of Merry Old England and away.

The Old Vic. By the people for the people!



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