Theatre: A new stage for The Old Vic
Saturday 11 October 1997
The biggest sadness about the fate of the Old Vic - the site of which is in the process of being sold by the Canadian impresario Ed Mirvish - is what will happen to the theatre's new-plays programme. If you haven't been down to the Vic in the last year, it works like this. Five days a week, the Peter Hall company performs its repertoire of gilt-edged classics. On Sundays and Mondays, however, the company presents more contemporary work, a mini-season of the classics of the future, programmed by former artistic director of the Bush, Dominic Dromgoole.
It has been a productive experiment. Two nights a week doesn't sound much, until you remember that the Old Vic seats 600 people. A show that sells out, as Playhouse Creatures, April de Angelis's sprightly comedy about Restoration actresses, has done, reaches as many people in one evening as the Royal Court Theatre Upstairs can manage in 10 days. Financially, that makes the whole project viable, but it's also, Dromgoole says, important artistically. "It's essential to get new plays out of a ghetto mentality, to get away from that small-black-box, studio aesthetic. Audiences have responded to the new format surprisingly well."
When Hall's actors do lose their Waterloo base, the classics would almost certainly find a home in the West End, under the auspices of veteran producer Bill Kenwright. New writing is less likely to sit happily in this brave new (or, rather, brave old) commercial world.
Make the most of it while it lasts, then. Dromgoole's latest production, which opens tomorrow, is Roy MacGregor's Snake in the Grass, a big, sprawling play in the Enemy of the People mould, in which a man (played by Kevin Whately) returns to his home town to point an accusatory finger at a respected music teacher. "It's got quite a western quality to it," the director reflects.
MacGregor, a respected TV-writer who was discovered by Dromgoole at the Bush, sadly died before he could see his new play brought to the stage. A fine cast, including Theresa Banham (splendid in the RSC's The Herbal Bed) and the amazingly industrious Greg Hicks (currently appearing in five Old Vic productions) should guarantee him a fitting epitaph.
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