It feels wonderfully apt that the Bristol Old Vic is reopening – at the end of a £26m renovation project – with a world premiere theatrical adaptation of Joe Simpson’s mountaineering memoir Touching the Void.
Simpson’s 1988 best-seller – detailing a near fatal climbing expedition in the Peruvian Andes three years earlier – relayed one of the most remarkable stories of endurance and survival in climbing history. And you could say that the Old Vic has battled overwhelming odds to remain the oldest continually working theatre in the English-speaking world.
A decade ago, it was touch and go; the building looked tired, the direction of travel was uncertain. Step by step, phase by phase, a hobbled regional player has been given exactly the right shot in the arm to recover and move forwards.
It might sound far-fetched to hail the BOV as an Everest of an arts venue, but architects Haworth Tompkins – the go-to-people for theatre-building magic – have created a sense of the sublime in the piazza-like new foyer (which opens on Monday).
For the first time since it opened, in 1766, the public can now see the façade of the Georgian theatre (the Theatre Royal) from the street. It wasn’t externally ornate – the auditorium façade is a mighty wall of brick. But it has its own wow-factor.