As the assembled hacks jostled for space, a panel of theatrical luminaries associated with the Old Vic, including Lord Attenborough, Dame Judi Dench and Stephen Daldry, took their seats as Sally Greene, CEO of the Old Vic, introduced the theatre's Chairman, Sir Elton John, and its new Artistic Director, Kevin Spacey.
Sir Elton injected some characteristically camp humor into the proceedings. When an announcement interrupted proceedings and asked for "Claire to go to Stage Door, please," he stood up and pretended to head off there.
Speaking with a very hoarse voice, he stressed that discussions for Mr. Spacey to run the Old Vic's new production company, which will turn it back into a producing theatre again, have been taking place over a period of two years. Indeed, it was the fact of Kevin Spacey's arrival that persuaded him to take up the position of Chairman.
Talking through the blitz of flashbulbs and camera lights, Mr. Spacey stressed that he wasn't leaving America so much as building a cultural bridge between it and Britain.
He had come to London and enjoyed its theatre regularly, on family holidays, since the age of seven. Although describing himself as "also being a film actor," he stressed that "theatre is the great love of my life," and said he was prepared to commit himself to many seasons as Artistic Director — "perhaps five years, perhaps ten." He added that details of the productions for the first season at the Old Vic would be announced "in due course" and that it would run from 2004 to 2005. Meanwhile, both Sally Greene and Lord Attenborough pointed out that a lot of money needed to be raised in order to repair the roof.
According to Ms. Greene, the walls of the Old Vic were "sopping wet." This was apparently due to a hole in the roof "caused when a bomb fell through it in 1940." It seems curious that no one had thought to repair it in the following 63 years.
On a more positive note, Kevin Spacey stressed his desire not only to attract the cream of British and American acting talent to the Old Vic, but to take its productions on tour and to the United States.
Both David Liddiment, whose background is in television but will be working as producer for the new Old Vic Theatre Company, and Sir Elton John, as Chairman of the Old Vic Theatre Trust, mentioned the extraordinary enthusiasm they felt Kevin Spacey had for the Old Vic, and the atmosphere at the launch was suitably upbeat and excited.
Mr. Spacey credited director Howard Davies (who was also present at the event) with having started his specific commitment to the Old Vic, when he directed him there in Eugene O'Neill's The Iceman Cometh in 1998, and rolled off a list of some of the distinguished acting talent that had preceded him there, from past giants like Olivier and Gielgud to current stars like Dame Judi Dench and Peter O'Toole.