*£3.5m Saves London s Old Vic for NationDate: 3 July 1998
London's Old Vic Theatre has been saved for the nation by a specially-established charitable trust which bid £3.5m to save the historic theatrical landmark from commercial development. The Old Vic, birthplace to the National Theatre and Sadler's Wells Opera and Ballet (later the Royal Opera and Ballet), was put up for sale last year by its Canadian owners Ed and David Mirvish.
The Mirvishes, who are said to have lost up to £30m during their 16-year ownership, had received bids nearer the asking price of £7.5m for various commercial ventures - including, it is rumoured, a lap-dancing club - but were intent on preserving the venue as a reputable theatre. The Old Vic Theatre Trust has put down £1.5m, raised from private donations, and must pay the remainder within 21 months. A public appeal is now being launched to raise £4m to cover the outstanding bill and pay for essential refurbishments.
The Trust will be chaired by Alex Bernstein, former Granada chairman, with fellow members Stephen Daldry, Royal Court director, and Sally Greene, theatre impresario. Under the Trust, the Old Vic will not act as a production house with its own company but rather as a receiving house for productions from smaller, subsidised venues such as the Royal Court, RNT, Donmar Warehouse and the Almeida Theatre.
The visiting productions will have cheap or rent-free runs at the 1,000-seat theatre, thus giving them access to bigger audiences and, hopefully, bigger profits. Running costs of the theatre will be covered by renting out the venues two rehearsal rooms and sub-contracting bar and catering facilities.
In a press conference held yesterday to announce the news of the Trust's successful bid, Culture Secretary Chris Smith said, 'I am truly thrilled that this has happened and am confident that this marks the start of an exciting new era for great British theatre.'
Almeida transfer The Iceman Cometh, starring Kevin Spacey, is currently playing at the Old Vic to enthusiastic audiences. One of the first productions under the new scheme will be Peter Shaffer's Amadeus, directed by Sir Peter Hall and starring David Suchet, due to open in October.
The Old Vic, a Grade II listed building near Waterloo station, is 180 years old. Under Lilian Baylis in the early 1900s, it became a home for Shakespearean drama. Some of the country's greatest actors - including Laurence Olivier, John Gielgud, Peggy Ashcroft and Vivien Leigh - have trod the Old Vic boards.