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Bristol Old Vic feels like home for so many

Kris Hallett reports back from the birthday celebrations at the Bristol Old Vic this weekend

Kneehigh perform Dead Dog in a Suitcase on the Bristol Old Vic stage
© ShotAway

On 30 May 1766 Bristol's King Street Theatre opened its doors for the first time to the paying public and has played host to entertainment ever since, becoming in the process Britain's oldest working playhouse.

The three day May bank holiday weekend sees the theatre open its arms to the city allowing for one epic knees up. Saturday, the first day of the festivities, was all about talks, workshops and tours. Mike Shepherd, founder and artistic director of Kneehigh told how he was not very interested in buildings as places to create work in before the theatre's previous artistic director Andy Hay asked him to assist and play in Marat/Sade and he discovered what could be achieved in buildings. Kneehigh have since become an almost resident company here.

The sense of everyone being in it together came across most prominently on the first day of celebrations

The tours around the theatre on Saturday were so popular that the free tickets were soon snapped up. No worries: artistic director Tom Morris rolled his sleeves up and took some more of the tours himself. It was this sense of everyone being in it together, as the staff as family, from its highest echelons to its casual bar staff, which came across most prominently on this first day of celebrations. You could see it in Eleanor Jackson, who works the bar and is a theatre school student and runner up in the recent Sondheim award, and who confided to me that it is the best part time job she has ever had. It was there in the talk where all the technical staff came together to discuss the technical intricacies of working on the recent Long Day's Journey Into Night. It was there in the look of pride from executive director Emma Stenning who watched this talk from the back of the studio.

This Saturday there were memories of the building both past and present: for Sally Peterson it was about working as a stage manager on Tennessee Williams' Camino Real in 1957, for Jon, a long term theatregoer here, his favourite memories were of a Richard II with Richard Pasco and the annual 'Christmas At King Street' shows that played in the late 60s and early 70s. For actor Pete Edwards who was born, raised and trained in the city before playing on its stage in the award nominated Pink Mist, this theatre is "a place where stories are told that may not be told elsewhere, a place where we can get lost in other people's imaginations.''

Upstairs, septuagenarian actor David Hargreaves stretched his imagination over monologues from each of the centuries the theatre has been in operation while downstairs in the basement the very young stretched theirs with a storytelling workshop. Tonight (29 May) a gala will take to the stage with actors including Tim West, Samantha Bond, Caroline Quentin and Tim Pigott-Smith. Tomorrow a street party comes to King's Street and the stage is open up to anyone who want to perform. There is something here for everyone this weekend which is why the theatre feels like home for so many. So let's raise a glass to the next two hundred and fifty years and the next set of golden memories.

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