The artistic director of The Old Vic has said that the London theatre is a “radically different” place since the departure of Kevin Spacey – and that the public now recognises the venue is more than simply “a famous figurehead”.
Spacey, a two-time Oscar-winner, was a major Hollywood star before some 20 people accused him of inappropriate behaviour in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal in October 2017.
Matthew Warchus, who took over from Spacey in 2015, has overseen a radical transformation of the Southbank venue’s front of house, including doubling the number of women’s toilets and improving disabled access.
He spoke at the grand opening of the renovated space, which was also attended by The Crown stars Matt Smith and Claire Foy.
Warchus told the PA news agency that while he did not want to “cast aspersions” on the work of his predecessors, he believed the public now understood more about the theatre’s true identity.
He said: “When I did start here as artistic director, it still looked like a West End theatre. It’s very old fashioned foyer space. It was dark during the day. Its doors were locked.
“This is a radically different place. It is much more continuously alive and more adventurous.
“I don’t want to cast aspersions on the work that was done here in the years before I started.
“Some really important work was done and great productions, great performances that were very meaningful.
“But the theatre was saved at that time and now we are building on it and shaping its identity.
“I think we have moved to a point where people understand more what The Old Vic is and what its identify is.
“It is no longer just – if you like – a famous figurehead. Or not primarily a famous person. Hopefully the building itself is what people are paying attention to.”
The renovation of the 201-year-old building also includes an accessible box office and a lift down to the subterranean Penny cafe and bar, which sports a new menu with a focus on sustainability.
Warchus added: “When I turned up here, and I used to work here, in the past I directed here over the years, I remember this theatre was going to close down in ’98.
“There was a whole group of people who rallied round to save this theatre.
“And thank goodness they did. It would have been a tragedy for this theatre to close down.”
Smith and Foy, who appeared on stage to present an award to child actor Lenny Rush, are currently rehearsing for an upcoming revival of Duncan Macmillan’s Lungs at the space.
Smith told Rush: “Your work on and off-stage is just brilliant. So thank you, mate. Well done, well done. This is for you.”
Alongside executive director Kate Varah, Warchus also plans to build a five-storey £12 million cultural hub called The Annex behind the theatre, which will include a learning centre.
He also used the event to announce that he is extending his tenure as creative director until 2023 to oversee its completion and opening.