When I visit some days before the excitement of opening night, the new Young Vic is alive with another kind of excitement. Builders, technicians and permanent staff are adding the final touches to the theatre’s monumental rebuild, and although there’s much left to do, it already feels as if they only need an audience to turn up to complete the theatrical circle.
“This is the most enjoyable phase in the construction cycle because you can see everything physically coming together,” says David Lan, the theatre’s artistic director, as he takes a breather from his whirlwind schedule to give me a peek inside the theatre’s two impressive new studio spaces.
“I guess it’s only towards the end of a major project like this that you begin to feel justified in the early decisions that you made at the design stage,” he adds later when we walk through the light and airy new bar, restaurant and outdoor terrace areas to arrive in the main auditorium. With its bench seating, at first this looks much the same as it did two years ago when the Young Vic company went on “Walkabout” while the builders moved in. But the theatre’s new performance nerve centre has actually been magically transformed to allow for a lot more all-round production flexibility, while still retaining the theatre’s unique close-up connection between actors and audience.
Clearly tickled pink with this new box of tricks, Lan is also keen to point out how the spirit of the old Young Vic has informed the physical transformation. “It always was a brilliant theatre. The original design was inspirational. I guess what we have been trying to do is to keep everything that was good about it and just push this out a little bit further. During my six years here as artistic director, we would do all sorts of crazy things in our productions, but we had to put in an enormous amount of effort to achieve them. Now we’ll be able to do those things more easily, less expensively, and even more imaginatively than we ever were able to before.”
Conceived in the 1960s, the original Young Vic opened in 1970 and was built on the cheap, mostly out of breeze block, around a derelict butcher’s shop and an old bomb site. “We are still using breeze block,” says Lan, “so we hope that what was expressed in the fabric has been retained alongside the same Young Vic vision of what a theatre can be – democratic, unreserved bench seating with everybody paying the same price, and a group of people coming together, leaving their distinctions outside and forming a very temporary little society in order to watch a show.”
Lan says it has been “an experience of a lifetime”, working on the rebuild campaign with the Young Vic team, including architect Steve Tompkins. “I always used to say that one of the pleasures of my job is that you do 17 completely different things every day. As we’ve got closer to the opening, it’s gone up to around 54.
“Part of the genius of the original Young Vic was that it was all about the next generation and people discovering their abilities or discovering theatre for the first time. We have always tried to keep that spirit, but now in a permanent space. I don’t know how long the new Young Vic will be here, but I am certain it will outlast me.”
The Young Vic’s new 160-seat studio space, the Maria, is launched with Love and Money, the latest play by Dennis Kelly. It’s co-produced with Manchester’s Royal Exchange, where it runs from 27 October to 11 November 2006, before transferring to the Young Vic from 21 November to 16 December 2006 (previews from 16 November). Following the community opera Tobias and the Angel, which concluded this past weekend, the next production in the main house is the world premiere of the new Christmas show, The Enchanted Pig, running from 14 December 2006 (previews from 1 December) to 27 January 2007.
A version of this article appears in the October issue of What’s on Stage magazine (formerly Theatregoer), which is out now available in participating theatres. To secure your copy of future editions, click here to subscribe now.