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Friday, July 3, 1998 Published at 12:22 GMT 13:22 UK


Old Vic theatre saved

The Old Vic: fears over transformation into seedy nightclub

The future of one of Britain's oldest and most prestigious theatres has been secured. There had been speculation that the building could have become a nightclub, bingo hall or even a lap-dancing venue.

The Canadian owners of the London theatre - once home to Laurence Olivier's National Theatre Company - have sold it to a charitable trust formed to ensure its future, according to one of the trustees.

A last-minute deal worth £3.5 million was signed on Wednesday night, shortly before the deadline set by Canadian impresarios Ed and David Mirvish.

The trust has put forward £1.5 million and has 21 months to come up with the rest of the total amount which falls well below the original asking price of £7 million.

Culture Secretary 'thrilled'

News of the sale was welcomed by Culture Secretary Chris Smith who had voiced concerns that the building should continue as a theatre and appealed to the owners not to rush into a quick sale.

[ image: Chris Smith: appeal to owners]
Chris Smith: appeal to owners
"I am truly thrilled this has happened and am confident that this marks the start of an exciting new era for great British theatre," he said.

The Old Vic Theatre Trust will be chaired by former chairman of the Granada group, Alex Berstein, and includes the director of the Royal Court Stephen Daldry and West End impresario Sally Greene.

"All theatre-goers love the Old Vic for its place in the history of British theatre. Our task now is to ensure its future becomes as important as its past," said Bernstein.

Mr Daldry said: "The new charitable status of the Vic will place it in a position to stage the best work in the country."

The trust will launch an appeal to raise in the region of £4 million to make sure the fabric of the theatre is protected.

Laurence Olivier, Alec Guinness, Ralph Richardson and Michael Redgrave are just a few of the greats who have graced the Old Vic stage.

It became the home of the National Theatre for 13 years until it moved to its present purpose-built home at London's South Bank.

It has been suggested that Sir Peter Hall's theatre company, which took up residence at the Piccadilly Theatre after the Old Vic was closed, may be encouraged to return.

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