A LETTER FROM LONDON: Jonathan Pryce in King Lear, the Refurbished Bristol Old Vic, Josie Rourke's Donmar Slate

By Ruth Leon
01 Oct 2012

Michael Grandage
Michael Grandage
Photo by Craig Schwartz

An amble through the landscape of U.K. theatre, with stops at Matilda, the Donmar Warehouse, Lear at the Almeida and Hedda at the Old Vic and more.

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Somebody had a great idea: to celebrate, over five nights, the work of some of the world's greatest poets, and bring those works to life through performances by some of our finest actors, including Deborah Findlay, Derek Jacobi, Felicity Jones, Rosamund Pike, Eddie Redmayne, Dominic West and Samuel West.

Michael Grandage, who until recently was the successful artistic director of the Donmar Warehouse and now has his own company, put together this classy tribute to the writer and poet Josephine Hart, who died last year. The five evenings covered W.H. Auden, T.S. Eliot, Philip Larkin, the World War I poets such as Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon, and an array of American poets from Emily Dickinson to Walt Whitman. Each evening was introduced by luminaries such as playwrights David Hare and Tom Stoppard, or the former director of the National Theatre, Richard Eyre. This was entertainment on a very lofty level indeed, and much enlivened by the witty and imaginative writing by Hart that accompanied the poems. The audience, almost entirely composed of London's theatrical and publishing elite, were reassured that, in an uncertain world, it is still possible to be amused, liberated, stimulated and enchanted by nothing but words.

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The Bristol Old Vic was built in 1766 (I remember it well!) and is the oldest working theatre in England. That doesn't matter (we have lots of old stuff) — what does matter is that this beautiful theatre has just been rebuilt after an 18-month refurbishment and is even more gorgeous than before. The great David Garrick called its original architect, James Saunders, the greatest theatre designer of the 18th century; since the Bristol Old Vic is the only large theatre of the period to have survived this long, we have to believe him. It has always been an actors' theatre. The aforementioned Richard Eyre says of it, "Everybody knows that Bristol Old Vic is old, rare and beautiful. What they might not know is that it's one of the best places in the world for actors, directors and writers to put on plays and for audiences to see them." It reopened last month with a production of John O'Keeffe's Wild Oats, first performed in 1791, barely 25 years after the theatre was built.

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