Despite its impressive heritage - as the birthplace of both the National Theatre and Sadler's Wells Opera and Ballet (later the Royal Opera and Ballet) - the Old Vic has traversed a rocky road in the past few decades. In 1997, Canadian brothers and proprietors Ed and David Mirvish put the theatre up for sale after 16 years' of ownership during which they lost up to an estimated £30 million. Scandal ensued when it looked as if the building might be turned into a lap-dancing club because of a lack of suitable theatre-related bids.
In July 1998, the specially established, charitable body, the Old Vic Theatre Trust - steered by the likes of formal Royal Court artistic director Stephen Daldry, theatre impresario Sally Green and American actor Kevin Spacey, who appeared on the Old Vic stage in the Almeida's legendary production of The Iceman Cometh - waded in to save the day with a £3.5 million bid that was passed.
Initially, the Trust was purely tasked with maintaining the Old Vic's viability as a receiving house and thus stabilising its financial situation. Then, in summer 2000, Old Vic Productions was launched in order to originate new shows. With Warchus' appointment, the hope is that these plans will at last start to be realised.
Warchus has directed myriad productions for the Royal Shakespeare Company, the National Theatre, the West End and Broadway. In addition to Art, his many successful credits include Reza's The Unexpected Man and Life x 3, Follies, True West, Hamlet, Much Ado about Nothing and The Devil Is an Ass. He was previously an associate director at Leeds' West Yorkshire Playhouse and is also an experienced opera director. In 1999, he made his film directing debut with an adaptation of Sam Shephard's play Sympatico, which starred Nick Nolte, Jeff Bridges and Sharon Stone.
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.
- by Terri Paddock