The Peter Hall Company's residency at the Old Vic theatre came to a close this past weekend (6 December) with its final performance of King Lear. Built in 1818, the Old Vic is one of London's oldest theatres and birthplace of both the National Theatre as well as the Sadlers Wells dance and opera companies. Canadian owners Ed and David Mirvish, who have owned the theatre for 15 years and spent £2.5m refurbishing it, have put it on the auctioneer's block for an estimated £7.5m. Sir Peter Hall moved into the theatre a year ago with his own private repertory company and an expected residency of five years. His aim was to provide a non-subsidised, repertory option to the National Theatre. In its first - and perhaps only - season, the company rotated a mix of 13 classic and new theatre shows, giving 10 performances a week, including Sundays (when the vast majority of West End venues are dark). Acclaimed productions included an almost Broadway-bound production of Samuel Becketts Waiting for Godot which starred Ben Kingsley and Alan Howard. Although Sir Peter hopes to soon re-establish the company in another West End home, it is currently homeless.
At the final curtain call on Saturday, Sir Peter, former head of both the Royal Shakespeare Company and the National Theatre, blamed the legacy of Thatcherism for the current financial crisis in the arts. "Why don't we have a referendum not about Europe but about, 'Do we want the arts?'" he said. He also feared for the future of the venerable Old Vic and warned that it could become another cheap, tourist theme experience along the lines of the London Dungeon.