Sofar Sounds | Our Backstage Bar Event

Earlier this month our Backstage Bar was host to an exclusive secret gig set up by the newly relaunched Sofar Sounds. A night filled with great atmosphere, music and a cracking crowd, here we recap the night with the two responsible for making it happen.

Hello! We are Huw and Joe, co-leads of Sofar Sounds Bristol!

Sofar – Songs From A Room – is a movement that sets up free, intimate gigs with emerging, as well as big name, musicians. Huw had originally been to Sofar gigs in Bristol, London and as far away as Geneva, Switzerland and after the old team disbanded we thought it a crime for a city with Bristol’s culture and musical talent to go without one. We both jumped at the chance to keep the magic going in our own city.


So, what is Sofar? Sofar was conceived in 2010 when, at a Friendly Fires gig, co-founders Rafe and Rocky noticed just how many people were chatting and gazing into their phones. They thought, ‘there must be a better way to do this’ and so the secret society of Sofar Sounds was born.

Although there is a degree of secrecy, the principles of Sofar are relatively simple. Attendees in each city have to sign up (and then receive an invite) to attend. They don’t know where the shows will be held until the day before, nor the artists performing until the night of. Bands that have previously played at Sofar include Bastille, The National, The Staves and Ezra Furman to name but a few. These micro-gigs are intimate events and so attendees must abide by the following rules; you actually have to listen to the music, the phones need to go off and you’ve got to stay the whole night.

Sofar is now set up in over 200 cities around the globe and across all six continents. In July alone, Sofar hosted 3,000 shows worldwide.
Though Sofar is an international brand, the organisation recruit local community members to organise, film, photograph, and record all the performances on a volunteer basis. Following our newfound involvement with Sofar, we were lucky enough to relaunch the event in the Backstage Bar of Bristol Old Vic earlier this month.

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We felt Bristol Old Vic was the perfect place to relaunch Sofar, owing to its history as the foundation for Bristol’s performing arts and, with such an iconic venue in the bag, securing our debut line-up all came down to a couple of phone calls.

The night kicked off with The Inexplicables playing their unique mash-up of reggae and hip hop. Although everyone was sitting on the floor (unusual for an Inexplicables gig) they were the ideal opening act to build up the atmosphere and get everyone excited. This was followed by Ayah Marar (vocals) and Peter Menage (guitar) playing acoustic versions of her popular hits, including the song ‘Thinking About You’ co-written with Calvin Harris.

After a short interlude and a few drinks at the bar, we were joined by our next act, Fenne Lily. Her original song ‘Top to Toe’ was the real highlight of the night, perfectly described by Joe as “invasive, but in a way that you don’t mind”. The track currently has 5 million plays on Spotify – definitely an artist to keep an eye on. The show then closed with Macaco Project, a Neo-Soul/R&B band, who were the perfect pick-me-up following Fenne’s beautifully ‘invasive’ set. Incredible vocals coupled with sax, piano, guitars, drums and keys had everyone, by the end, thinking ‘why isn’t this band more popular?’

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So what’s next for Bristol Sofar? Well… the next show kicks off at our as of yet undisclosed location on 19 September, to be followed by another once each month. In October (15/10/16) we’ll also be collaborating with Oxjam for an exclusive double-bill event!

Just a final thanks to Bristol Old Vic and the awesome team for allowing us to make use of their incredible Backstage Bar. We certainly hope we’ll be back.

To discover more about Sofar Sounds and to find out how you can attend an event, click here.

The Rivals Rehearsal Diary – Week 4

The Rivals company have arrived in Bristol! Following three weeks of rehearsals in London, find out all about their first week in our very own Theatre space in the latest rehearsal diary from Assistant Director Ed Madden.

Our first week in Bristol began much as our first week in London did, with a chance to meet and greet everybody in the building, whom we’ll be working alongside through the remainder of rehearsals, tech and the run. Unlike in London, this meet and greet was held on the very stage where the company will be performing The Rivals nightly within a few weeks.


Readers of this blog will likely know this, but Bristol Old Vic really is one of the most beautiful theatres in the country. Standing on the stage, its intimacy is even more palpable than it is from the audience; for actors there is a very real feeling that they are in the same room as the people they are performing to. It’s helpful to get a sense of the space in this way. There are things about being there for real that can’t be gleaned from the mark-up in the rehearsal room: the proximity of the forestage to the front row of audience, the depth of the space, the presence of the onstage boxes.

It’s an invigorating way to start the week, and is swiftly followed by our first music call, where composer Dan Jones teaches the company a song which we are considering using somewhere in the show. It’s one of the many elements being added in thick and fast now that we’re in Bristol. Although there are no costumes in the room yet, most of the company are now wearing period shoes so that they can get used to the feel, and the week has been peppered with costume fittings off-site. Pieces of set vanish from the rehearsal room only to reappear the next day newly painted, and various props arrive to flesh out the world of the play and the actors’ interactions with it.

Perhaps most excitingly: a fight call. Jonathan Howell of the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School arrived midweek to teach us about the etiquette of duelling with swords and pistols, and to choreograph some neat moments of action. On the whole, Sheridan is more concerned with battles of wits than of blades, so we don’t quite go full Treasure Island, but it’s exciting nonetheless — and only adds to the sense that the production is hurtling ever faster towards being ready for an audience.


We’re in a good place going into the fifth and final week of rehearsals. There are still moments to refine and decisions to make, and there is always a sense in which it’s difficult to know exactly what needs work until it’s possible to run the play all the way through. Nobody is complacent, and so the rehearsal room is still a place of invention, rigour and possibility; now we just need to use our last week to distil those possibilities into something we can take into the theatre for tech. Not long now!

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

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.