New website launched!

Yesterday we launched a new website and brand. Head over to to check it out!

Bristol Old Vic logo NEW 2018

There’s a brand new section there called Latest which will be home to our blog and latest news items. We’re sorry to leave, but we’ll soon be closing our WordPress blog here, so make sure to bookmark to keep abreast of all the exciting goings on at Bristol Old Vic in the future!

All the best,
Team Bristol Old Vic

The Cherry Orchard – Week 4

With preparations for previews well under way, The Cherry Orchard’s Assistant Director Evan Lordan takes us through what we can expect from Acts 3 and 4 in Chekhov’s final masterpiece. 

©elliekurttz-CherryOrchardREH-217Act 3 gets wilder each time we look at it; after ‘nothing’ happening twice in Acts 1 and 2 (Seinfeld fans will be pleased!), Act 3 is a proper roller coaster. You can expect live music, waltzing, magic tricks, unexpected entrances, unanticipated disappearances, fights, reconciliations, cruelty, kindness and plot twists! All this despite the fact that, as per usual, Chekhov has decided to place the main dramatic action off-stage and so the rollercoaster that we witness is an emotional and psychological one. Chekhov is so good at creating the backdrop and circumstances that all at once he can mirror one character’s emotional and mental state and totally undercut another’s. “It wasn’t the time to invite musicians. It wasn’t the time for a ball…” says Ranyevskaya. Quite, but that is why it is just so perfect; he is always playful, he is always devastating.


By the time we get to Act 4, it really should all be worked out, but that would be far too easy. While this Act gives the majority of characters a sort of closure (for better or worse), for one couple there is one of the most awkward and awful ‘proposal’ scenes in the history of theatre. You’ll not be able to look away, but you’ll want to. You might even laugh, but probably only to stop you from crying.

Today we’re going back for another sweep of Act 1, bringing with us everything we’ve learned from the other three Acts. Now these characters have got real meat on their bones. It’s amazing to see this cast hitting their stride; where interactions ‘worked’ during previous runs, now sparks fly! In some places that’s right and not so much in others, but the texture and complexity of the text is really coming to life in the rehearsal room.


The actors are going through a process, but so too is Director Michael Boyd. The marks being hit during initial rehearsals that seemed satisfactory before are now nowhere near our new ambitions. His understanding of the play is being shaped by the actors’ and characters’ development each day. We have been blessed with a six-week rehearsal process, but we will need every minute of it… this show will continue to shift and change in that time, and throughout the run too. This is what will keep the show alive. Just when the actors think they have it all figured out, The Cherry Orchard will throw  something new at them. It will give them reason to reconsider everything that they thought they knew about it. These revelations will in turn shift the lines for their colleagues, creating a chain reaction. It’s set to be one hell of an evening’s live and alive entertainment.

The Cherry Orchard opens at Bristol Old Vic on 1 Mar and runs til 7 Apr. For more information and to book tickets, click here.

LGBT History Month – Sarah Siddons

Alongside our ongoing HLF heritage project, we have been investigating Bristol Old Vic’s dramas, both on and off stage, by seeking out archival evidence of individuals with diverse identities and bodies. LGBT History month felt like the ideal time to draw back the curtain and showcase some of our Theatre’s lesser known history…


Figure 1. Engraving, University of Bristol Theatre Collection

Sarah Siddons has long been heralded as an icon of 18th-century theatre: a regular player on the London stage, part of a theatrical dynasty, and a celebrated tragic actress. Renowned for her ability to depict complex emotions, she frequently performed Shakespearean roles; her famous depiction of Lady Macbeth was described as ‘perfection’ (Figure 2). er. However, her experimentation with gender and accolade as the first influential woman to play Hamlet is less well known.


Figure 2. Sarah Siddons as Lady Macbeth. Mander & Mitchenson Collection, University of Bristol Theatre Collection.

In the 17th century the first professional actresses began appearing onstage, with breeches roles becoming a popular source of comedic entertainment. Some critics have argued that this cross-dressing enabled women to subvert gender roles, and to engage in the swaggering, rakish behaviour displayed by male performers. Yet others note that breeches roles actually increased the sexualisation of women, by allowing heterosexual male audiences a better view of actresses’ legs. Moreover, breeches roles involve an actress adopting male garments as part of the narrative, and their comedic value lies in the imperfect impersonation of a male part – for example, Viola in Twelfth Night. Misconceptions often occur: other female characters often mistake the gender of a breeches character and fall in love with them, but everyone returns to their original gender and is usually romantically involved with a partner of the opposite sex by the end of the play.


Figure 3. Engraving, University of Bristol Theatre Collection

In contrast, cross-dressing roles are sustained throughout a performance and are the choice of the actor, not the character. Siddons’ decision to play Hamlet is a deliberate choice that enabled her to explore the constructed nature of gender onstage and off it. Celestine Woo’s work describes Siddons’ performances as Hamlet in detail. She notes that Siddons ‘performed the role of Hamlet nine times over thirty years’, meaning it was not an anomaly. Though Siddons never played Hamlet on a London stage, she depicted the role at major venues in the provinces including Dublin, Manchester and – of course – at the Bristol Old Vic, then the Theatre Royal, Bristol.


Figure 4. Costume worn by Siddons as Hamlet, Mander & Mitchenson Collection, University of Bristol Theatre Collection. Original at the British Library

So how did Siddons expose the way gender is performed and constructed? Woo describes how Siddons’ costume choice helped destabilise traditional gender roles. Her argument is based on a fan’s watercolour drawing of Siddons’ Hamlet from her Dublin performances in 1802 and 1805 (see Figure 4).

By eschewing breeches, Siddons ignores the usual marker of onstage masculinity. Instead, the flash of leg from underneath the black toga which otherwise hides her female contours adds a risqué element to an otherwise androgynous outfit. Combining details socially-recognised as feminine – the white lace, feathered plume, floral brooch and soft fringe – with a phallic sword, Siddons simultaneously denies the fetishization normally endorsed by a breeches role and highlights the reliance on gendered props to help convey gender to an onlooker or audience.


Figure 5. Playbill from the Theatre Royal, Manchester, advertising Siddons as Hamlet. Mander & Mitchenson Collection, University of Bristol Theatre Collection.

Though her performance received mixed reactions, Siddons cross-dressing in this way enabled a woman to play Hamlet seriously. Performing such an iconic role expanded the possibilities for female actors in the 18th century, and drew attention to the instability of gender by mixing male and female symbols through costume. Whilst Siddons is rightly remembered for her nuanced performances of women, her experimentation with gender paved the way for further female Hamlets and for women to depict male characters outside of comedy. That she played Hamlet on the Bristol Old Vic’s stage is a fact that should be shared just as much as her appearances in traditionally female roles.

The Cherry Orchard – Creating the Key Image

Ahead of the run, we caught up with photographer Seamus Ryan to find out how he captured the lead image for our upcoming spring spectacular, The Cherry Orchard.


It was late October last year when Richard Brett, the Graphic Designer at Bristol Old Vic, got in touch about shooting the lead image for their upcoming production of The Cherry Orchard. I was delighted, as I had already had the privilege of working on Long Day’s Journey into Night and The Grinning Man in 2016, so I knew an exciting collaborative and creative project lay ahead. What I didn’t predict was that by the end of the shoot I would also become something of an expert in the international trade of exotic fruit and vegetables.

Richard already had the bones of the concept for the image. He knew from the director, Michael Boyd, that the play would be full of humour and sadness, as it addressed the social tension between the two leads and the play’s key theme of change. We discussed the possible layout and the colour palette. Preparing for a photoshoot is an all-consuming process. All sorts of disparate elements and people must come together to form the final image. In this case, the talented team from Bristol would provide costumes and make-up. A time was found in the busy schedules of actors Kirsty Bushell and Jude Owusu. Apart from designing the lighting, I was to source the set and props. The shoot was less than a week away but everything was coming together nicely. What could possibly go wrong?

I first sensed we might have a problem after checking all the usual places for cherries. My local supermarkets and fruit stalls were devoid of them. I extended the search to more specialist fruit suppliers like Harrods and Selfridges. They too drew a blank. I was told the season had ended in late August so supply was very limited. Mild panic began to envelope me. How can we do a shoot for The Cherry Orchard without a cherry? As a last resort back-up, I went online and ordered some fake cherries. They were hat decorations and bound to look dodgy but I was confident we would not need them. London is one of the culinary capitals of the world and I had a new lead…

At 7am on a wet Wednesday, I met Gary Voight, owner of Elsey & Bent, famed purveyors of exotic fruit and veg and based for generations in Borough Market. If anyone could find me a cherry, this was the man. He gave me hope, as he had heard there might be some cherries flying in from Argentina that night. He would personally call on all his contacts at New Covent Garden Market at 4am the next morning. In the meantime, a friend of a friend in the fruit business also agreed to trawl the wholesale markets. He also had word of South American night flights. There was nothing more I could do but wait.

My studio was a blur of activity as we prepared for the arrival of our stars, Kirsty and Jude. Although they had both been cast for the production by Michael, they hadn’t actually met each other til the shoot. The instant chemistry between them was inspiring and infectious. Two great acting talents riffing off each other, full of ideas, wit and creativity. I knew straight away that we were going to get something special. I also instantly knew that I really wanted to see the real thing on stage in Bristol. From the many variations we shot on the day, one final image was chosen. It now graces the walls of the theatre and train stations, features in national and local press, and is the cover image of Bristol Old Vic’s season brochure. It will be seen by thousands and I hope will serve the play well. I couldn’t be happier.

At the heart of the image and central to the poster’s communication are 47 of the most ripe and succulent cherries one could ever wish for. Lopakhin, played by Jude, holds one up as if symbolic of his new position. A cut-glass bowl is full to the brim, suggesting the orchard outside. Well, not really. It turns out we picked the one week of the year when not a single cherry was available to buy for any amount of love or money in London. My search was in vain. Instead, with some skilful stalk painting by Richard, we used the fake ones that had arrived the day before the shoot and surprised us all by being so convincing. Indeed, they were so realistic that people kept reaching out to eat them. Now that the image is out there and has a life of its own, I no longer view them as fake cherries. Instead, in the spirit of good theatre, they have embraced the role of real cherries and like all good actors will be staying in character throughout the production.

The Cherry Orchard opens at Bristol Old Vic on 1 Mar and runs til 7 Apr. For more information and to book tickets, click here.

The Cherry Orchard – Week 1

Rehearsals began last week for the first show in our ‘Year of Change’ season, The Cherry Orchard. Here, Assistant Director Evan Lordan gives us a first behind-the-scenes glimpse at how this vivid new production of Chekhov’s masterpiece is finding its feet.

Model showing 15 Jan 2017 The Cherry Orchard_cropped_GS

This week has been a massive journey; through the life of Anton Chekhov, through Russian History and through The Cherry Orchard. Day 1 and a room full of about 30 people – Bristol Old Vic and Royal Exchange Theatre staff, technicians, costumes makers, dressers, stage managers, producers, sound designers, lighting designers and the cast – meet for the first read through of the play in Paddington Arts, London. Everyone is lovely, but few people know each other and there is an excited, nervous energy in the room. I find it quite comforting to see others in the room seemingly as awkward as me! We take a break from the ‘getting-to-know-yous’ and get our first glimpse at the model box and how designer, Tom Piper, plans on transforming Bristol Old Vic’s auditorium. I don’t want to give too much away at this stage, but this is going to be a pretty unique and very special experience for the Bristol Old Vic faithful.

Then we get down to brass tacks, reading the script. On Day One we are not expecting too much, but despite that it is truly compelling to hear the characters of The Cherry Orchard coming to life.

Usually production meetings are not a source of great excitement, but here the most pressing point on the agenda was the need to find a magic specialist who could help us with some of the unique quandaries presented by this play. Not your usual day at the office!

Director, Michael Boyd, speaks with great passion about Chekhov. He is a true aficionado and an absolute fountain of knowledge with regard to the life and times of the man. It becomes apparent that as much as we will be reading The Cherry Orchard, we will be reading the author and his life as a way of interpreting the words on the page and what his intentions were, and what our intentions will become.

Michael studied in Russia, speaks Russian and has worked with Rory Mullarkey on this translation – because they both felt that while there have been worthy English ‘versions’, they wanted to create as true a translation of Chekhov’s words as possible. Rory has been working with us in the room all week and it has been incredibly interesting and useful to hear what choices had to be made in terms of finding the best words to give the actors in lieu of direct translatable words and meanings. Russians speak in a far more direct way than most of us in the UK and both Rory and Michael wanted to champion that blunt attitude, that unique way of speaking and the speech rhythms contained in the original Russian. The faint-of-heart need not worry however; this is still one of Chekhov’s most poetic, subtle and lyrical plays.

Most of the work this week has been going through the text with a fine-tooth comb, which this text absolutely deserves. It is so rich with meaning, beauty, ugliness and truth that after a week we have still not investigated all four acts, but not one minute of our time has been uninspiring or wasted.

The Cherry Orchard opens at Bristol Old Vic on 1 Mar and runs til 7 Apr. For more information and to book tickets, click here.