One-off socially distanced performance of Romantics Anonymous launches Bristol Old Vic’s autumn season of live performance

Following a successful trial period of pilot performance in the newly launched Courtyard and outdoor Garden Stage, Bristol Old Vic will present a rolling schedule of performances to socially distanced audiences throughout the autumn.

Live performances in the Courtyard and Theatre spaces will open with a discussion about the future of theatre in Bristol featuring a panel of Tom Morris, Chinonyerem Odimba and Mike Tweddle (Thu 17 Sep), a poetry cabaret night by Edson Burton (Fri 18 Sep) and an acoustic concert by the celebrated Zu Zu Men (Sat 19 Sep.)
On Sun 27 Sep, Wise Children, Bristol Old Vic and Plush Theatricals will present a one-off performance of Romantics Anonymous for a live, socially distanced audience at Bristol Old Vic, following the company’s ‘digital tour’ of live-streamed performances across the UK and internationally from 22 – 26 Sep. This marks Bristol Old Vic’s first event with a live audience in its 254-year-old theatre since it was forced to close on 17 Mar.

Audience capacity will be limited in line with all current guidelines and extra measures will be put in place to keep audience and performers safe. Demand is likely to be high, with tickets going on sale at 12noon on Mon 14 Sep. All proceeds will go to the Wise Children/Bristol Old Vic Collaboration Fund to commission and invest in future collaborations between the two companies.

Reprising their roles, the full cast for Romantics Anonymous is Marc Antolin (Jean-René), Carly Bawden (Angélique), Me’sha Bryan (Suzanne/Mimi), Harry Hepple (Ludo/Remi), Laura Jane Matthewson (Young Woman), Sandra Marvin (Magda/Brigitte/Dr Maxim), Philip Cox (Father/Pierre/Receptionist), Gareth Snook (Mercier/Mumbler/Marini) and Omari Douglas (Salesman/Fred), who joins the cast.

Artistic Director of Bristol Old Vic Tom Morris said today, “Tickets for the streamed performances of Romantics Anonymous are flying out the door. Wise Children have shown once again that they are the company to lead where the boldest theatre experimenters, artists and audiences alike, are sure to follow. This single “same room” performance is a gift from the company to their loyal and passionate audiences in Bristol and a wonderful opportunity for us at the theatre to begin a journey of welcome to you, the lifeblood of the theatre, which will roll out across the autumn.”

Artistic Director of Wise Children Emma Rice today said, “I cannot believe that, in less than a week Wise Children will be in a rehearsal room again and in less than 2, we will be performing our beloved Romantics Anonymous to an audience – live! The last weeks have been filled with scrupulous planning and careful preparations to ensure the safety of the cast and crew, but when we get onto that stage everything will change. Under the lights, for a few short hours, we will forget our fears and remember other essentials in life; imagination, celebration, story, community and song. Hand in virtual hand with our audience we will feel the joy and exhilaration of a collective experience; that sweet, delicious, much missed treat! And to think that we will have an actual Bristol audience watching in the flesh on our final night is almost too much excitement for a woman to bear. Joy upon joy, thrill upon thrill! Let the show go on!”

Alongside this pioneering event, Bristol Old Vic are now working on a full autumn programme including a series of live-streamed hybrid events which will ensure that it can welcome audiences in the theatre and live at home to enjoy extraordinary performances by brilliant artists from Bristol and beyond.

Announcements are expected shortly of projects involving KneehighStephanie Cole, Tom Marshman, Impermanence Dance Company, the Boogaloo String Band, Milk Poetry PresentsBristol Old Vic Theatre SchoolTheatre Ad Infinitum and a host of other delights.

Thu 17 Sep

Theatre in Bristol after the pandemic


The Courtyard

From £5

Theatre in Bristol after the pandemic is a conversation event open for audiences and theatre lovers in Bristol in which Tom Morris will explain how Bristol Old Vic is seeking to rebuild its programme after the pandemic.
Tom will be accompanied by Chinonyerem Odimba, playwright, Chair of Theatre Bristol and Bristol Old Vic Board member, who will be chairing Bristol Old Vic’s working group for Representation and Welcome in the Context of Black Lives Matter, and Mike Tweddle, Artistic Director of Tobacco Factory Theatres.
There will be an opportunity for audience members to ask questions and share the future they would like to see in the city’s theatrical life.

Fri 18 Sep

Edson Burton: Pandemic Poetry


The Courtyard

From £10

When the theatres closed, Shakespeare wrote sonnets. He’s not claiming to be Shakespeare, but like the Bard, Bristol writer Edson Burton turned to his first love poetry as a way to document his journey through this pandemic. From disappointment, to dread, the passion of Black Lives Matter, to the uneasy ‘easying’.
Edson is joined by musicians and friends for a night of poetry, storytelling and music as he shares some moments of connection and looks to our past, our present and our future.

Sat 19 Sep

The Zu Zu Men: Acoustic Special


The Courtyard

From £10

Bristol band The Zu Zu Men first emerged from the dust at the start of the Year of Our Lord 2012. Their specialities include reinterpreting pop/rock favourites and taking audience requests, often miraculously learning them on the spot. This has helped grow their repertoire to near gargantuan proportions and their seats are jam-packed with songs from the 50s to the present.

They have played all over Bristol and recently enjoyed a musical residency at the Royal Naval Volunteer. Their performance style, normally a propane-driven feast of fun, has mellowed for this very special socially distanced acoustic show, with guitars, bass, drums and ukulele providing toe-tapping tunes and folky fingerstyle fun until the wee hours.

Tue 22 – Sat 26 Sep

Romantics Anonymous: Digital Tour

Presented by Wise Children, Bristol Old Vic and Plush Theatricals

7.30pm, 9pm (see website for details)

From £15

Ages 8+

Sun 27 Sep

Romantics Anonymous: Live at Bristol Old Vic

Presented by Wise Children, Bristol Old Vic and Plush Theatricals


From £20

Ages 8+

Live indoor performances to return this week at Bristol Old Vic

Bristol Old Vic

Five months after its forced closure on 17 March, Bristol Old Vic is set to reopen with a series of experimental performances this August and September.

This announcement follows hot on the heels of the theatre’s Reopening Appeal launch and the re-opening of its bar and café. Funds raised through the appeal will commission new work from Bristol artists as part of Bristol Old Vic’s growing and evolving programme as the theatre and city emerge from the pandemic.

Thu 20 Aug: Vanessa Kisuule 

Fri 21 Aug: Mark Olver presents Who Said That?

Sat 22: Patrycja Kujawska & James Gow

Announcing this week’s performances, Artistic Director Tom Morris said:

“Our doors are already open, but we can only call ourselves a theatre when we are sharing live performance again. While we’ve been fighting to keep our business alive, we’ve been overwhelmed by the generosity of our friends and supporters whose kindness is funding this programme.  

We begin with three tiny performances by brilliant and beloved Bristolian artists.  

And behind the scenes, we’ve already commissioned a series of experiments through Bristol Ferment, which will be performed in early September. Very shortly we will also announce new work by our renowned Young Company and collaborations with the Associate Companies and artists whose work has made our building sing with life over the last decade. 

Our aim is to re-grow our programme gradually, ensuring that the audience experience is safe and the creative process properly protected, too. There will be pioneering experiments in hybrid live/streamed performance to give those who prefer to stay at home a front seat experience alongside the growing audiences we are able to entertain live.  

The journey might be long before we can get close to the scale of work we were enjoying last year, but it’s exciting, too, giving us the opportunity to rethink our relationship with the city, and to take a leap forward in the style of work we can present and audiences we can welcome. This theatre must be for everyone in the city, sharing and celebrating the creativity of us all. And we are thrilled to be embarking on a new journey towards that goal this week.”

Further details of this week’s performances:

The programme starts on Thu 20 Aug with a live performance by Vanessa Kisuule, whose recent poem ‘Hollow’ about the toppling of Edward Colston’s statue went viral online.

The Bristol City Poet for 2018 – 2020, Vanessa has won over ten slam titles and has performed across the country and abroad. She was the recipient of The Jerwood Micro Arts Bursary in 2017 and the Leverhulme Arts Scholarship. SEXY, Vanessa’s one woman show, toured the UK in 2018.

The following evening, on Fri 21 Aug, local stand-up Mark Olver invites you to join him for a game of Who Said That?, the comedy panel show in which four comedians dial in to ask each other questions and try to work out whose ridiculous, hilarious and occasionally baffling answers are whose. This live edition of the show will see Mark hosting from Bristol Old Vic with his four guests Jayde Adams, Luke Kempner, Robin Morgan and Lou Conran joining in remotely for an evening of questions, answers and no doubt some minor technical difficulties.

To conclude the weekend, on Sat 22 Aug, actor and violinist Patrycja Kujawska and musician James Gow, who have both worked with companies like Kneehigh and Wise Children to perform all over the world, will be serenading audiences with a repertoire of light miniatures for violin and cello, developed over the past months together in their gardens. Expect to hear Bach, Mozart, Handel and other classics brought to life from Bristol Old Vic’s atmospheric new indoor stage.

The newly pedestrianised King Street and reopened café and bar will play a key role in welcoming people from across Bristol into the building to explore what is on offer. Visitors can find out more about food and drink provisions here.

Bristol Old Vic will be announcing further productions that will take place in its café and bar throughout August and September very soon.

Listings Information: Live at Bristol Old Vic
Vanessa Kisuule
Thu 20 Aug
Bristol Old Vic
Ages 10+
60 mins
£10 Table of 2 / £20 Table of 4 / £30 Table of 6

Mark Olver presents Who Said That
Fri 21 Aug
Bristol Old Vic
Ages 12+
60 mins
£10 Table of 2 / £20 Table of 4 / £30 Table of 6 

Patrycja Kujawska & James Gow
Sat 22 Aug
Bristol Old Vic
60 mins
£10 Table of 2 / £20 Table of 4 / £30 Table of 6

Casting announced for the West End transfer of Tom Morris’ production of Touching the Void

Touching The Void by David Greig, directed by Tom Morris. Bristol Old Vic Theatre. CREDIT Geraint Lewis

Casting has today been announced for Touching The Void. Following critically acclaimed runs at the Bristol Old Vic, Royal & Derngate, Northampton, Royal Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh, Hong Kong Festival and on Tour in the UK Tom Morris’ production of Touching the Void will see original cast members Fiona Hampton, Patrick McNamee and Josh Williams return to the show, joined by Angus Yellowlees. The show will open in the West End at the Duke of York’s Theatre previewing from November 9th for a strictly limited season with an opening night of November 14th.

Fiona Hampton will play Sarah. Her theatre credits include: Much Ado About Nothing (Shakespeare’s Globe); Tamburlaine (Yellow Earth/Arcola Theatre and UK tour); A Midsummer Night’s Dream (New Wolsey Theatre); Private Lives (Octagon Theatre/New Victoria Theatre); Winter HillThe Glass MenagerieTullOf Mice and MenLighthearted Intercourse (all Octagon Theatre); Don’t Laugh (Cockpit Theatre); Playhouse Creatures(Chichester Festival Theatre); The Changeling (The Production Works/Southwark Playhouse); RoarClockheart Boy (Rose Theatre Kingston); The Merchant of Venice (Derby LIVE). Film includes: The Good NeighbourRevolutionKingsman: Secret ServiceThe WindmillLegacy. Television includes: The Collection (Amazon Prime/BBC Worldwide); Switch (ITV); Holby City (BBC); The Sarah Jane Adventures (DW Productions).

Patrick McNamee will play Richard. His theatre credits include: French Without Tears (Orange Tree Theatre); The History Boys (Selladoor);Sweeney ToddA Few Good MenLove and a BottleThe Way of the WorldThree SistersHamletWomen Beware WomenIona RainFor Services Rendered (all LAMDA). Film includes: The Invisible Hours (VR project). Television includes: Series regular on Our GirlInspector George Gently(BBC).

Josh Williams will play Joe. His theatre includes: If We Got Some More Cocaine I Could Show You How I Love You (Project Arts Centre); One Night in Miami (Donmar Warehouse); Barbarians (Found 111); New Views: Is There a WIFI in Heaven? (National Theatre); Wendy and Peter Pan(RSC); Love and InformationOur Private Life (Royal Court); Romeo and Juliet (Shakespeare’s Globe); Shivered (Southwark Playhouse); Lord of the Flies (Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre). Television includes: DoctorsMay DayHolby City (BBC); Agatha Raison (Sky One); Midsomer Murders,Law and Order (ITV).

Angus Yellowlees will play Simon. Angus trained at LAMDA graduating in 2017 where credits whilst training included Bury FairHobson’s Choiceand The Cherry Orchard. Screen credits include The Last Commanders (BBC) and We Have Everywhere To Go (NFTS). Radio work includes The Balloaloes and The Gnats. Angus is originally from the Scottish Borders and is a keen climber. Touching the Void will be his professional stage debut.

Bristol Old Vic’s Tom Morris (War Horse, Swallows & Amazons,) directs the first stage version of Touching the Void, adapted by The Lyceum’s David Greig (The Events, The Suppliant Women, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) from the award-winning memoir by Joe Simpson, which also became a BAFTA-winning film. They are joined by Designer Ti Green, Sound Designer and Composer Jon Nicholls, Lighting DesignerChris Davey, Movement Director Sasha Milavic Davies and with casting by Jill Green CDG. This production marks the 30th anniversary of the publication of Joe Simpson’s best-selling memoir, charting his extraordinary struggle for survival on the perilous Siula Grande mountain in the Peruvian Andes. Alongside this struggle is the appalling dilemma of his climbing partner Simon Yates, perched on an unstable snow-cliff, clinging onto the rope tying him to the severely injured Joe. Unable to recover Joe from the void, Simon is faced with the agonising decision to cut the rope that binds them…


Touching the Void 
Based on the book by Joe Simpson
Adapted by David Greig
Directed by Tom Morris

Performance Dates:

Duke of York’s Theatre
St Martin’s Lane, Charing Cross, London WC2N 4BG
0844 871 7623
Saturday 9th November 2019 – Saturday 29th February 2020
Monday – Saturday 7:30 pm
Wednesday and Saturday 2.30pm
First Saturday matinee 16th November
First Wednesday matinee 20th November

Press Night Thursday 14th November


Tickets from £15
Groups Bookings: 020 7206 1174
Access Bookings: 0844 871 7677

Bristol Bus Boycott pioneers attend press night for Princess & The Hustler

Bus Boycott campaigners Roy Hackett, Paul Stephenson and Barbara Dettering chat with Bristol Old Vic Artistic Director Tom Morris and Eclipse Theatre Company’s Artistic Director and Director of Princess & The Hustler, Dawn Walton. (Photo by Harry Plowden)

Bristol Old Vic last night welcomed Bristol’s pioneering Civil Rights campaigners Paul Stephenson, Roy Hackett and Barbara Dettering at the press performance for Eclipse Theatre Company, Bristol Old Vic and Hull Truck Theatre’s co-production Princess & The Hustler.

The new play by Bristol playwright Chinonyerem Odimba is set in 1960s Bristol on the cusp of change. Set against the backdrop of the Bristol Bus Boycott, the play demonstrates the personal impact of the Civil Rights movement on Bristol’s real communities at that time, through the lives of one black Bristolian family.

Seun Shote who plays Wendell Senior with Bus Boycott pioneer Roy Hackett (Photo by Harry Plowden)

Seun Shote who plays Wendell Senior with Bus Boycott pioneer Roy Hackett (Photo by Harry Plowden)

Paul Stephenson and Roy Hackett, Bristol’s original Bus Boycott campaigners, now in their 90s, attended last night’s performance as guests of honour, staying until the small hours to talk to the cast and share their extraordinary experiences with them.

Bristol Old Vic Artistic Director Tom Morris today said,

“Chino’s beautiful play and this collaboration with Dawn Walton’s brilliant Eclipse Theatre Company is set firmly in the context of Bristol’s 2018 Year of Change. Prompted by Ujima Radio’s Roger Griffith, we determined that our newly reopened theatre would renew its welcome to every community in the city, and celebrate the stories which matter most to the people who have made our city what it is. The story of the Bristol Bus Boycott and the community of St Pauls who fought to combat employment prejudice in the city is one of those stories which is both inspiring in relation to what the city might achieve in the future, and chastening in relation to the injustices which remain unaddressed.

The night was made all the more special by the fact that Paul Stephenson and Roy Hackett, the original architects of the Bus Boycott, together with Barbara Dettering, who founded the St Pauls Carnival in its wake, were able to attend, closing an extraordinary circle of witness and celebration of their heroic achievements.”

In 1961, Bristol Evening Post exposed a ‘colour bar’ by the Bristol Omnibus company, preventing non-white people from working as bus drivers in Bristol. The prejudice was tried and tested in 1963, when Paul Stephenson, spokesman for the West Indian Development Council, sent his black student Guy Bailey to interview for a job as a bus driver. After a successful phone interview, Bailey proceeded to visit the Omnibus company, where he was promptly turned away and refused the job.

The West Indian Development Council’s founding member Roy Hackett and Paul Stephenson announced the Bristol Bus Boycott in April 1963, urging Bristol’s black communities to avoid taking the bus until the colour bar was lifted. A month later, Bristol University students held a protest march in support of the boycott. The stand-off finally came to an end in August 1963, when the Omnibus company announced that there would be no more discrimination in employing bus crews. Two years later, the British Government passed the first Race Relations Act of 1965, outlawing discrimination on the grounds of race in public places. To celebrate the unity that helped end the colour bar on Bristol’s buses, Bristolian activist and social worker Barbara Dettering put on the first St Pauls Carnival in 1968, an annual African Caribbean carnival now held every July in Bristol.

The Bristol Bus Boycott is now seen to be a pivotal moment in Black Civil Rights history, spearheading positive change across the UK.

Princess & The Hustler opened on Sat 9 Feb and will run at Bristol Old Vic until Sat 23 Feb, before heading on a UK-wide tour.


Interview with Tom Morris, Bristol Old Vic: “Part of what we do is making stories about people that audiences can be entertained and inspired by and there is a market place for that.” 

Tom Morris

Tom Morris © Mark Douet

After a triumphant run and high praise from audiences and critics, the director has had the last laugh with The Grinning Man’s success.
The Grinning Man was a huge risk for Bristol Old Vic, currently celebrating its 250th anniversary year. The show was warmly received and is surely destined for another life. Who’d have thought that a musical based on the Victor Hugo novel and cult silent movie The Man Who Laughs could be so moving, thrilling and powerful?
If regional theatre wants to safeguard its future it can’t play safe. It’s risk-taking that keeps theatre alive. Despite funding cuts and global uncertainty we are living through a rich time for theatrical experiment – as witnessed at Bristol Old Vic.
Tom Morris is Artistic Director of Bristol Old Vic and has been Associate Director of the National Theatre since 2004. Previous productions at Bristol Old Vic include: King Lear, The Crucible, Swallows and Amazons, Juliet and Her Romeo, and Messiah (Bristol Proms, 2012). FYI: Tom was also co-director of War Horse, widely considered to be the most successful theatre production of all time.
The Grinning Man has just finished a successful run, I had a chat with Tom last week about that, his desire to stay relevant in a shifting theatre landscape, and his love for Bristol as a cultural powerhouse.

Hi Tom! The Grinning Man is *very* good. How did you celebrate?
We ended up in Renatos singing songs from Jesus Christ Superstar eating food and drinking together. It was brilliant.

What are your top tips for an aspiring director?
Well, move to Bristol. Not because you are going to get a great job precisely, but because there is a creative community and audience in this city that can sustain the framework. There is also a developing Fringe in Bristol. You learn by doing and you have to want it passionately. I suppose I would also say: get on with it. Trying to find the right environment to flourish is half the battle won.

Tom Morris - The Grinning Man Rehearsals 

Tom Morris – The Grinning Man Rehearsals

The Grinning Man
This year is our 250th Birthday and to celebrate this unique milestone we have staged a year-round programme of productions from each of the four centuries the theatre has been in operation. Bristol Old Vic has always looked forward. I suppose the reason for staging The Grinning Man in the autumn, of this special season, is that the product is unusual and pushes boundaries. The Grinning Man is a play with songs about the spirit of Bristol. Part of what we do is making stories about people that audiences can be entertained and inspired by and there is a market place for that.

People are scared of new musicals, sometimes aren’t they?
With The Grinning Man, I suppose the story and model is complicated. Finding a version of the tale that was possible for the audience to engage with, whilst remaining faithful to the novel and exploring form and content was a huge challenge. There was always a danger of us going down a narrative blind alley.
I have to say that there is a lot going on in order to bring a new musical of this size and scale to the stage. It is very expensive to develop and if you don’t get it right or even half right can be a disaster. Having said that, there is a real appetite for new musicals; why that is I don’t know. I guess it is such a powerful kit that you get to play with; tears and laughter. Conventionally, audiences are reluctant to come and see new musicals. What has been particularly strong with this show, in particular, is the word of mouth effect; people have been prepared to overcome the unknown and taken a leap of faith. I hope that they have enjoyed it.

What three things should every new musical have?

  1. Story
  2. Tunes
  3. Passion

Shrinking attention spans aside, did you have to get rid of any bits you love?
God yes! There were whole scenes that ended up on the cutting room floor, for better or worse. What’s been so rewarding is that the entire company felt confident enough to suggest changes, say when something wasn’t working and embellish details with their own identities. But when you have a company as talented as ours and an extraordinary creative team as this it’s a very organic process. The show has developed in leaps and bounds.

Bristol has a growing reputation as a creative city. What makes it so exciting?
Well, huge numbers of creative people move to or stay here because it has a justified reputation. It’s still possible to get cheap accommodation and is very active economically. In order to find work there are massive opportunities for this city and region and that requires investment. Manchester and Liverpool have grasped opportunity for investment massively. Looking forward, the hugely exciting prospects are the Heritage Lottery Funding and next phase of our refurbishment– of which we are hugely grateful to Arts Council England, but also huge number of donations and time from individuals and philanthropy. In order for Bristol Old Vic to be a forward thinking producing theatre of scale we need to be more than a business; we need to be a heritage destination and take a massive leap in order to keep telling the story to flourish to the public. We have deliberately realigned to create and produce new work.

Looking ahead what are you most excited about in 2017?
Last week there was a workshop in London of a new play Junkyard by Jack Thorne about the junk playground built in Lockleaze in the 1970’s, it features music by Stephen Warbeck – We’re co-producing this next year with Headlong, Rose Theatre Kingston and Theatr Clwyd. I am very excited we are a part of that.

We need risk-takers more than ever, how do you balance risk adventure with number crunching?
You might assume that I am the one with the wildly imaginative and ambitious artistic ideas and Emma is the sensible one. That is not always the case. We have fairly nuanced conversations, with support from our excellent team and board of trustees. You plot a course. Playing safe doesn’t really work, the theatre has only survived so far because of the city’s relationship and love for it. The city has infamously rescued it and essentially it is a quarter of a millennium love affair, which like all love affairs has had its fair shares of ups and downs.