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 – Week 3

With just under a month to go until The Cherry Orchard‘s debut, Assistant Director Evan Lordan took a quick five minutes out of the rehearsal room to fill us in on all the latest updates from Week 3. 

8. Jude Owusu, Kirsty Bushell, Simon Coateselliekurttz-CherryOrchardREH-031Director Michael Boyd and Writer/Translator Rory Mullarkey have both made reference to the fact that The Cherry Orchard is often read as a naturalistic play, but perhaps it shouldn’t be. They have both mentioned similarities between The Cherry Orchard and Samuel Beckett’s absurdist tragicomedy, Waiting for Godot, especially in the first two acts where nothing happens (twice!). Just like Beckett’s work, this play is rife with gallows humour; watching a run of Act 2 earlier this week put a great big smile across my face while simultaneously making my skin crawl. All the complicated, contradictory, lovable and laughable characters in the play seem to live in this uncomfortable state of inconsistency all the time.

Chekhov is often credited with the storytelling maxim “one must never place a loaded rifle on the stage if it isn’t going to go off. It’s wrong to make promises you don’t mean to keep”. Well, Act 2 introduces two guns from the very beginning. Make of that what you will…

7. Togo Igawa, Michael Boyd elliekurttz-CherryOrchardREH055

Are you talking to me?” Michael Boyd has also spoken about the fact that the text suggests that at least one character is trying to make direct conversation with the audience. This is the first time that Michael has directed a Chekhov piece and he wants to stay true to the playwright’s intentions. But this is hardly turning the production into an immersive theatre event; this is an attempt to stay true to a 114-year-old text. What is beautiful is that it naturally still feels contemporary.

10. Jude Owusu, Kirsty Bushell elliekurttz-CherryOrchardREH-227

As Assistant Director, I am trying to make the most of working with such a talented bunch of individuals. I was a fan of The Cherry Orchard before I started on this project, but I am an even bigger fan now. So many of my preconceptions of this play have been utterly turned on their head due to everybody’s incredibly thoughtful and emotional insights into the script. Every decision made in this rehearsal room has had real purpose and every question we meet that hasn’t yet been answered galvanizes the group – more intriguing puzzles left by Chekhov for us to unravel together. It’s difficult to give any examples without creating spoilers and so, unfortunately, I will remain vague, but I will say that now that we’ve spent three weeks getting under the skin of this thing, the major decisions that are being made just feel right. It’s very hard for me to imagine another more compelling way of interpreting this show.

5. Kirsty Bushell elliekurttz-CherryOrchardREH-112

You can’t pigeonhole a single character; each of them as such a story to tell. One of my favourite things about Chekhov is how he uses characters to present different points of view surrounding the themes he chooses, and how they give texture to the complexity of any given subject. He sees things with complete objectivity and is able to simply present truth without making judgement. We, the audience are the ones who must decide what is right or wrong, good or bad. A situation is presented to you and you are asked to question for yourself, rather than being preached at or told what to think. That is not an easy thing for an artist to achieve, especially when you hold strong beliefs on the subject yourself. Life is never black and white; Chekhov knows this and we are a lucky audience to have him.

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 2

While The Cherry Orchard rehearsals continue to power ahead, Assistant Director Evan Lordan gives us an inside scoop at how the cast are preparing to take on Chekhovs final masterpiece in our ‘Year of Change’ season.

Week 2 - FlippedThe moment you think Chekhov is being judgemental, think again.”

Week 2’s rehearsal diary is scattered with insights, exclamations and questions that have come about in the rehearsal room as a result of delving into the text of The Cherry Orchard. I don’t attribute them to anyone in particular and they are intentionally left without any context, as it makes some of them seem incredibly profound, some very curious and others very silly…

There is a trap in thinking that if people are rude to your character, that that means you are low status – not so.”

The work never stops here on The Cherry Orchard! It is lunchtime on Friday afternoon and Movement Director Liz Ranken is working with Éva Magyar and Joseph Hardy on the choreography and music for Act 3; it is a lot of fun, has lots of energy and is, quite simply, spectacular.

He would watch people and has such a keen eye for human behaviour and psychology; be in the same room as Anton Chekhov at your peril!

This week has been the first time that the actors have been given a chance to stretch their legs, which is good because they have been champing at the bit for the chance to try these characters on for size. This play is an absolute beast and although we’ve had a chance to skip ahead and look at choreography in Act 3, we have only just started scratching the surface of Act 2 on Friday morning.

Always trust a sudden mood swing!”

I have been watching Director Michael Boyd like a hawk, trying to glean and steal as much theatrical know how as humanly possible. He wants every single moment of this production to hold water; why a character says what they say, how they say it, which entrance they come from and every single movement they make or don’t make. Nothing is left to chance and everything has purpose. The two most recurring phrases in the room are, “I don’t buy it” or “I buy that”.

Chekhov loves the exquisite anguish of unrequited love.”

Making up the arching four-act narrative is the detail in each character’s individual stories, such as filling an awkward silence by deciding to give to someone their telegrams and going to stand near a different character to give them support or for safety. This ‘story’ may take up only 5 or 10 seconds of stage time, but it has a beginning, middle and end. Those 10 seconds have purpose and drive and as a result we, the audience, can ‘buy it’ as truthful.

He is a genius about the hardship of money, the psychology of it… the humiliation it can cause, the desperation, how it can affect us spiritually.”

I think it’s worth mentioning that just because there is this constant search for each character to have truthful stories and motivations, it doesn’t mean that this show is singularly located in the realms of ‘Realism’ or ‘Naturalism’.

Can both of you do a one-handed cartwheel?”

This was Chekhov’s final play and he had started to experiment with different forms; Michael Boyd is looking to stay as loyal to Chekhov’s intentions as possible by embracing the different styles and genres that he was exploring at the time.

Chekhov is so cruel.”

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.