Canadians Ed and David Mirvish, owners of The Old Vic, have set a deadline of 1 July for bids for the historic theatre, made famous by Lilian Baylis before becoming the first home of The National Theatre under Sir Laurence Olivier in the Sixties.
It is understood that on 1 July an announcement will be made of a lottery application for funds to keep the building in London's Waterloo district as a theatre.
Sir Peter Hall, who ran an acclaimed repertory season at The Old Vic last year, is understood to be one of those involved in the plan, which could see him returning to the theatre to mount further seasons. Other names understood to be crucial to the plan include Stephen Daldry, director of The Royal Court theatre and producer Sally Greene, head of Criterion Productions.
No one involved would comment last week, but a source confirmed that a plan was afoot to raise Lottery money and buy the theatre, and it was hoped to bring Sir Peter Hall back to The Old Vic. He is currently running a season at the Piccadilly Theatre.
Chris Smith, the Culture Secretary, is thought to have been kept abreast of developments and is likely to lend his support. In February he surprised the audience at the Olivier Awards by publicly begging the Mirvishes not to rush into a quick sale.
"Please don't rush into a disposal of the Old Vic and give all the rest of us a chance to come forward with good high-quality proposals for it to run as a theatre, with a vital role to play in London's life," Mr Smith said.
David Mirvish and his father, who acquired The Old Vic in 1982 for pounds 550,000, spent millions renovating it, and are looking for bids of about pounds 7.5m for the Grade II listed building. Mr Mirvish says he wants the building to remain a theatre.