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We are doubly blessed here in the West with two of the country’s oldest working theatres – the Bristol Old Vic and the Theatre Royal Bath. And that’s not all: this pair of grande dames preside over a lively contemporary fringe scene that spills across the two cities.
Actor Daniel Day-Lewis once described the Bristol Old Vic’s Theatre Royal as ‘the most beautiful theatre in England’. It opened (illegally) on cobbled King Street in 1766 and since then its boards have been trodden by an impressive cast of English players. A major redevelopment project – unveiled in September 2018 – has transformed its front of house space, created a new studio theatre and initiated a new heritage department that aims to share its stories and backstage secrets.
Bath’s elegant, Georgian Theatre Royal first opened in 1805. Today, it houses three very different performance spaces – the Main House has a year-round programme of top-quality drama including West End productions; the Ustinov Studio focuses on new writing and contemporary drama; while the egg theatre is designed by and for young people and children.
Enter stage left
Still in Bristol, head south of the river to Bedminster’s Tobacco Factory Theatres whose inspiring programme has featured comedy, opera, family shows and re-imagined Shakespeare. More intimate venues, including the Alma Tavern and the pocket-size Wardobe Theatre, are at the heart of the city’s thriving fringe theatre scene.
In Bath, head for The Rondo in Larkhall: a gem of a performance space with just 100 seats, it has a reputation for hosting big names keen to experiment with new material.
By the sea
The Tropicana in Weston super Mare and the Theatre Shop in Clevedon are leading the Somerset seaside’s cultural revival with an excellent mix of touring and home-grown shows. Weston’s Playhouse Theatre, a former market hall open since 1946, offers a more traditional programme.