In between the Berlin and Paris premieres of his Oscar-nominated film Cold Mountain, actor Jude Law (pictured) flew back to London today to launch the public fundraising campaign for his ‘local theatre’, the Young Vic (See News, 2 Dec 2003). The renowned South Bank venue, built 34 years ago to last a maximum of five years, will close for an estimated 18 to 24 months to undergo an essential £12.5 million overhaul.

Towards that cost, the Young Vic has to date raised £5 million through public and private funding sources – not least a cool £1 million from its new chairman Patrick McKenna (See News, 11 Sep 2003) – and are expecting later this month to secure a maximum of £5 million in National Lottery grants. The remaining £2.5 million must now be raised from private individuals and other corporate donors.

Speaking today, as chief patron of the new fundraising campaign, Law recalled how, having grown up on the South Bank, he first discovered the theatre whose energy and proximity of performance “taught me how enjoyable it could be to be an audience member but also a performer”.

Despite his international screen success, in recent years Law has twice returned to tread the boards at the Young Vic – in Tis Pity She's a Whore (1999) and Doctor Faustus (2002), both directed by artistic director David Lan, who he today praised for “rekindling” the heart of this theatrical “leading light”.

“I’m a great fan (of the Young Vic),” said Law. “And anything we can do to ensure that theatre can continue here for another 34, 64, 94 years and more is incredibly important.”

At today’s press conference, architect Steve Tompkins of Haworth Tompkins unveiled the extensive redevelopment plans for the building. Though the Young Vic’s ‘unique’ semi-in-the-round main auditorium – described by Tompkins as “one of the most successful performance spaces built in this country in the past 100 years” - will remain, it will be made more technically sound and versatile, with an increased capacity of up 600 (as opposed to 350-450 in existing configurations). The plans also include the creation of two new studios, a workshop, terrace spaces and expanded offices, dressing rooms and public foyers.

A decision on the Young Vic’s application for Lottery funding is expected on 16 February. When asked today what contingency plans there were if the Arts Council failed to come through with the expected £5 million, David Lan said: “We have no contingency plan. If we don’t get the money, the project won’t happen and this company will very likely close.”

Options for public donations to the Young Vic rebuild campaign include naming opportunities (starting with a toilet for £2,500), buying permanent seats in the auditorium (£1,000) and paying £1 supplements on tickets for upcoming productions. For further information and to make a pledge, visit the Young Vic website.

- by Terri Paddock

Several other celebrities have lent their support to the Young Vic’s rebuild. Amongst them:

  • Ken Livingstone, mayor of London: “I am delighted to lend my fullest support to plans for redevelopment. For over 30 years, the Young Vic has been a key landmark in London’s cultural landscape, presenting the most diverse and impressive productions to the most diverse and impressive audiences. I hope you can now count on the full backing of your national, regional and local supporters.”

  • Joseph Fiennes, actor: “The Young Vic is in such a poor physical state, but this does not reflect the inner state, which is dynamic and passionate and bursting with potential and energy. It was here in this unique building that I first made that firm decision to go to drama school.”

  • Peter Brook, director: “Without funds, walls crack and joints creak. It is vital to keep the Young Vic young.”

  • Stephen Daldry, director: “The rise of the Young Vic under the artistic directorship of David Lan is one of the most important events in recent British theatre. Anyone who cares about theatre in this country must support this campaign.”

  • Vanessa Redgrave, actor: “The Young Vic is everything I believe a great theatre should be – intimate, ambitious, entertaining, challenging. Sitting in its wonderfully diverse and enthusiastic audience reminds me that, at its best, theatre is for everyone.”