MAKE THE MOST OF ME | Our Backstage Bar screening

Since opening back in June, our Backstage Bar has been quite a hive of activity. From Press Night for King Lear to a secret gig with Sofar Sounds, our next experiment with the space will see us screen three short films created in the South West on Fri 26 Aug.
Here we talk to Sarah Watts and Alison Hargreaves, directors of MAKE THE MOST OF ME.

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Tell us a little about the film and what inspired you to create it.
Working closely together at Bristol Old Vic we realised we shared creative instincts and ambitions and started talking about making something together.  We recognised that in the media older people are presented with a sympathetic, distancing gaze which focussed upon the disadvantages of old age.   We couldn’t see any genuinely compelling representations of old people as full individuals and participants in the world.  We decided to film them differently, and engage them in casual conversations which would capture the full force of their presence and personalities.  We didn’t focus on their disadvantages, or present them as voices from the past.  Our motto became “shoot them like they’re 30”.

How did you approach the creative process and the challenge of working with the elderly/vulnerable?
We worked it out as we went along! Our process began with the two of us talking a lot, interrogating our ideas and drawing pictures, and speaking with other people we knew would have wisdom for us.  We then had a number of days in the care home where we established the wrong and right way to shoot the space and the wrong and right way to engage with our interviewees on camera. We were incredibly lucky to work with Acer House Care Home where the staff were so accommodating and the residents were such good fun.   The residents are the masters of their own schedules and movements so we had to be ready to wait for them and ready to shoot at very short notice.

Where did you acquire the funding to create this film?
We were very lucky to receive an Arts Council Grant, and we received a lot of support through our relationship with the University of The West of England, as we gave work experience to two graduating film students.  It would have been impossible without that support.

What is the one thing you would most like this film to achieve?
Opportunities to make more work!
The process of making the film has already taught us so much.  We hope the film will serve to introduce us to new creative people and help us generate support for future projects. We also hope this film triggers thinking around the way we treat older people.

Do you have any future plans for the film? Is there another project in the works?
We’re very keen to share it with as broad an audience as possible.  A crucial part of our plan from the beginning was to go on tour to nursing homes around the South West and create inclusive, intergenerational events around the film. We’ll also make it available to view and share online, and we’ll submit it to the appropriate film festivals. We will be working together again and are in the process of deciding what that next project might be…

MAKE THE MOST OF ME will be screened in our Backstage Bar Fri 26 Aug alongside two other short films; Life of Brians by Andy Oxley & Joshua Gaunt, and Light and Dark by Michael Smith and Tom Stubbs.

For more info and to register your interest, email:

The Rivals | Delving into the set with Cliff Thorne

Cliff.jpgDuring the summer break, our Backstage Bar has become a Paintshop once more as The Rivals prepares to make its riotous debut. Here we talk to Scenic Artist Cliff Thorne who’s been hard at work hand-painting the backdrops of our 18th Century set.

Tell us a bit about yourself and what a Scenic Artist does.
I’ve been involved in building and painting scenery for the past 30 years; starting with Aardman Animations in film & TV and, more recently, Theatre. In the last 5 years I’ve spent more of my time working in Theatre as digital imagery has taken over from live sets in many film productions.

As a Scenic Artist, I find myself doing everything from painting large canvases, which is what we’re working on for The Rivals, to making stuff look older or newer than it is. If you’ve got a prop that’s been brought from the outside, that could be changing the appearance of it or making one particular material look like another. For example, making timber look like stone or making canvas look like a sheet of metal or other special paint effects.


How did you get involved in working on The Rivals?
I do a lot of my scenic art here at Bristol Old Vic as a freelancer. I get called in by whoever is the production manager, in this case Nic Prior, and that’s exactly what happened with The Rivals.

What are the backdrops going to look like?
There are seven backdrops. The largest two are too big to paint in here so they’re going to be done as scanochromes (big prints). We may have to work on them to make them look exactly the way Tom Rogers, the Set Designer, wants them to look but we’ll have to see how they’ve turned out when they arrive.

They’re from images that already exist, so we have digital copies going to the printers ready to be printed up. They may come back looking just right or they may come back needing to be adjusted – needing to be brought into focus in some areas or made to look shabby because they’re supposed to look like old scenery that’s been in the back of a theatre for 100 to 200 years.

The five smaller ones, which are still relatively large by most standards (5m²), we’re painting those up from small scale pictures, photographs and thumbnails from the internet. So it’s been a challenge but we’re rising to it and they’re looking very very good!


How are you going about bringing Tom Rogers’ vision to life?
The painted backdrops or canvases create elements within the rooms. That is his concept. They have to look like they’re pieces of scenery that have been around for a long time so we’re painting the canvases as new and then we’re going to have to age them. We’re going to have to tear holes in them and water stain them, spray them with dark colours and fade them out in various ways in order to get to the particular state of age that he wants. Once all this initial paint work is complete, Tom will be the one telling us exactly how far to go.

Is there anything interesting you can tell us about the set?
There are no side walls and there’s no back wall. There are a lot of enormous picture frames which frame the large canvases we’re painting and they fly in and out throughout the show. They’re also on tracks so they can be moved side to side by the cast in order to set up different rooms. So sometimes these large frames have canvases behind them to look like paintings within frames and sometimes the frames are aligned in certain ways as arches to create vistas and avenues.

Which is your favourite backdrop for the show?
Right now we’re painting a canvas which depicts an 18th Century hunting scene. That’s been the most interesting one to paint. It’s like we’re painting a giant oil painting.


What are you looking forward to most when the show debuts?
It’s always rewarding to see the finished product on-stage. So I’m looking forward to seeing how the backdrops piece together with the rest of the set, how the cast interact with them and seeing the audience reaction to them.

The Rivals continues our 250th Anniversary Season 9 Sep-2 Oct. For more information and to book tickets, click here.

The Rivals Rehearsal Diary – Week 3

ed.jpgFollowing the final week of rehearsals in London, Assistant Director Ed Madden reveals all the latest developments as The Rivals company make their way to Bristol.

And so it begins to come together. By midday last Tuesday we had, to all intents and purposes, finished our first draft of The Rivals. Not something finished, polished, or ready for an audience, but something with a shape and a texture and a sense of direction. There is a mixture of relief and trepidation in the room: we’ve got to the end of the thing once, but now we have to go back and face the kinds of decisions which a fortnight ago we were able to hold off on making.

A big part of the week has been working out how to stitch the play’s fourteen scenes together. On the face of it, these questions of transition might seem dry and technical, but in actual fact, much of the spirit of a production can be gleaned from how it all hangs together. The same is true of how a show begins: if it’s true that it only takes thirty seconds for us to form first impressions of one another, why shouldn’t the same be true in the theatre?

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We’ve talked a lot in rehearsals about the extent to which The Rivals is intimately concerned with ideas of playing and performance, and so are experimenting with using the top of the show and the shifts between scenes to blur the lines between the world of the theatre and the world of the play. I don’t want to give too much away, but I think that this strand of our work has led to some of the most interesting discoveries we’ve made. It’s also influenced our approach to the scenes themselves, in that we’re gently pushing at some of the conventions around staging Sheridan. It’s not an extreme approach, but it is a playful one, and indicative of Dominic’s commitment both to keeping the play in period, and to telling the story in a way that is witty and accessible for a contemporary audience.

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Revisiting scenes that we first looked at a fortnight ago is also fascinating in terms of seeing how the actors have begun to inhabit their characters more fully. Without exception, the performances are richer and more elegantly drawn than they were when we started, which, whilst not surprising (that is why we rehearse, after all), is nonetheless a pleasure to witness. As scripts start to be put down, so our sense of the physicality of these characters increases: Lee Mengo making the spirited Bob Acres a puffed-up firecracker, Lucy Briggs-Owen all flutter and flurry as giddy Lydia Languish. For the next three months, Sheridan’s characters are going to be a part of these actors’ daily lives, and in the room we get the chance to learn everything about them.

The fourth week of rehearsals will see us leave London behind and start work in the rehearsal rooms at Bristol Old Vic, which everybody agrees will make everything feel that much more real. That can’t be a bad thing — when we think about how fast the first three weeks have gone, it feels like it’ll be opening night before we know it!

The Rivals continues our 250th Anniversary Season 9 Sep-2 Oct. For more information and to book tickets, click here.

The Rivals Rehearsal Diary – Week 2

ed.jpgAs rehearsals start heating up on our 250th Anniversary production of The Rivals, Assistant Director Ed Madden reveals all the latest developments following the second week in the rehearsal room.

At the end of week two, we’ve now taken a first stab at almost every scene in The Rivals, and in the process we’re realising just how brilliantly structured Sheridan’s script is. Although I must have read the play half a dozen times before getting into the rehearsal room, it’s seeing the words on the page take physical form which allows one to appreciate the dramatic architecture of the thing.

Sheridan was writing at the same time as Mozart was composing, and it comes as no surprise. The way in which Sheridan builds patterns through The Rivals is almost musical; his skill in developing subplots that echo and complement the main action, the balance between high comedy and sincere feeling, the sense of finely-judged symmetry that runs through the action. In much the same way as musicians must not only play the notes of a score but judge the timbre of the music, so our cast must constantly think about the tone of their performances.

We’ve talked a lot about the many different levels and layers on which Sheridan’s characters operate. This is a play of feigned and mistaken identities, in which characters often share their feelings and secrets not with one another but with the audience; personalities are riotously eccentric and knowingly over-the-top, but there needs to be enough truth in them for audiences to care about what happens. The upshot of all this is that the actors have a lot to juggle and that Dominic has to work hard to make sure that everybody is on the same page.

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Director Dominic Hill with cast-members Lucy Briggs Owen and Rhys Rusbatch

And of course there is much more going on than just the language. This week alone we’ve wrestled with the mechanics of wheeling a moving door around the stage, the practicalities of breaking crockery every night, and the burning question of exactly how frequently a harpsichord needs to be tuned — there’s certainly more than enough to keep our brilliant stage management team busy. In one particularly impressive moment, our deputy stage manager Bryony produced a pair of hand fans within five minutes of being asked for them. She insists they were found in the prop store at our rehearsal room, but I suspect she might actually just be magic.

Next week we will finish our initial pass at the play, and be able to go back and start the process of tweaking, refining, working out transitions between scenes and adding music. Each step of this process has thrown up as many questions as it has answers, but right now that feels like the most fruitful and creative way to be working. We’re finding that the play sings best when its complexity is worn lightly, and its wit played nimbly. It’s a tricky tightrope to walk, but satisfying too — and very, very funny.

The Rivals continues our 250th Anniversary Season 9 Sep-2 Oct. For more information and to book tickets, click here.

The Rivals | Cast Bio – Lily Donovan

Lily Donovan

Rehearsals are well and truly underway for The Rivals, the next production in our 250th Anniversary Programme, and the company have been in hysterics each day, making the most of Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s hilarious comedy of manners under the watchful eye of Director Dominic Hill.

Here we find out a little about Lucy, played by talented Bristol Old Vic Theatre School graduate Lily Donovan.

Where are you from and how did you get into acting?
I was born and brought up in South London. I can’t remember actually getting into acting, it has just always been something I loved. My earliest memories are of dressing up and making up stories and plays in the garden. It’s just a passion that grew and grew and never went away.

How does it feel to be a Peter O’Toole Prize Winner and having your professional debut in a Bristol Old Vic production?
It’s amazing! I genuinely can’t believe it! I feel so privileged. Peter O’Toole is a legend and to win an award named after him is so cool.

I’m so excited about performing at Bristol Old Vic. The stage and auditorium is stunning. You can feel the history of it around you. It’s a dream to be making my professional debut there.

Tell us a bit about what characters you are playing in The Rivals?
I’m playing a very mischievous character called Lucy. I don’t want to say too much about her but she’s very smart and quick thinking and enjoys watching the antics she stirs up unfold before her…

What was it like training at Bristol Old Vic Theatre School?
It was amazing. I loved my time there. The teachers are incredible and I made wonderful friends. School was like being in a big family.

What are you most looking forward to in taking the Bristol Old Vic stage?
Knowing I’m standing on that stage where so many great actors have stood and I’m there as a professional too.

The Rivals continues our 250th Anniversary Season 9 Sep-2 Oct. For more information and to book tickets, click here.