Groundhog Day: Secrets of the Old Vic

Groundhog Day in rehearsal

This week sees the first preview of Groundhog Day, the brand new musical based on the 1993 hit movie. The show, written by Danny Rubin, reunites Director Matthew Warchus, composer and lyricist Tim Minchin, choreographer Peter Darling and designer Rob Howell, four of the creators of the international sensation Matilda The Musical.

If you’re lucky enough to be seeing Groundhog Day you’re in for a treat! Not only is it a sure-fire hit, it’s playing in one of London’s most historic and best-loved theatres.

Often we’re so busy collecting our tickets, meeting our friends, ordering interval drinks and buying our programmes that we take very little time to admire the décor and architecture of these wonderful buildings, but take a few moments to get to know this grand old lady and you’ll be richly rewarded!

The Old Vic by night
One of the great sights of South London: The Old Vic by night

When this theatre opened its doors in 1818 it was known as the “Royal Coburg Theatre” after Leopold of Saxe Coburg who was married to Princess Charlotte, daughter of George IV. The foundation stone at the side of the theatre mentions the original name. Renamed the Royal Victoria Theatre in honour of Princess (later Queen) Victoria in 1833, the theatre was known for low class entertainment including melodrama and bawdy music hall.  When Christian social reformer Emma Cons took over she turned it into the Royal Victoria Coffee Hall, banning the demon drink and lending an air of respectability to proceedings.

In 1912 Emma Cons’ formidable niece Lilian Baylis took over and established the Old Vic as a house for Shakespeare, opera and ballet.  Actors like Lawrence Olivier, John Gielgud, Ralph Richardson, Sybil Thorndike, Edith Evans and James Mason trod the boards. Baylis was famously eccentric and audiences watching a show during her time at the theatre would hear the sizzling of bacon coming from backstage where she cooked her supper during the performances! Lilian died on 25 November 1937, the day of the dress rehearsal for  “Macbeth” starring Laurence Olivier. The opening was postponed as the director and lead actress were involved in a car accident, adding to the myth of “The Scottish Play” being beset by curse and misfortune!

Lord Olivier "escaped injury when a stage weight came crashing down inches from his head"
Lord Olivier “escaped injury when a stage weight came crashing down inches from his head”

The National Theatre was based here while waiting for its current building to be erected with Olivier as Artistic Director. Peter O’ Toole, Albert Finney, Anthony Hopkins, Geraldine McEwan and Maggie Smith were regular cast members during this period.

When the National relocated to the South Bank a variety of companies made the theatre their home with varying degrees of success. Canadian businessman Ed Mirvish kept the theatre going but when he put it up for sale rumours spread that an interested buyer wanted to turn this historic venue into a lapdancing club.

Luckily that didn’t happen, with businesswoman Sally Greene coming to the rescue and bringing in Artistic Director Kevin Spacey to carry on the good tradition of high quality drama started by Baylis back in 1912. New Artistic Director Matthew Warchus is unlikely to cook his supper backstage but will surely make his mark on this grand institution.

Information on the history of the Old Vic was provided by Diane Burstein. Diane conducts walking tours of West End Theatres throughout the year.

Andy Karl Backstage Magazine Cover by Nina Robinson
Andy Karl Backstage Magazine Cover by Nina Robinson

Groundhog Day is the story of Phil Connors (Andy Karl), a cynical Pittsburgh TV weatherman who is sent to cover the annual Groundhog Day event in the isolated small town of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, when he finds himself caught in a time loop, forced to repeat the same day again and again…and again. As each day plays out exactly the same as before Phil becomes increasingly despondent, but is there a lesson to be learnt through his experiences, will he ever unlock the secret and break the cycle?

Groundhog Day will play a strictly limited 10-week season from Friday 15 July – Saturday 17 September 2016.

Fri 15 Jul – Sat 17 Sep 2016 (Previews Fri 15 Jul – Mon 15 Aug)
Mon – Sat 7.30pm; Wed & Sat 2.30pm
Recommended for ages 13+

You can buy tickets for Groundhog Day here.

For more information on History Tours please call 0844 871 7628 or email historytours@oldvictheatre.com