Women At The Old Vic

The Old Vic

Even before women had the right to vote, they were instrumental in creating The Old Vic. Over 200 years, countless women have played a fundamental part in The Old Vic’s history. 

For the past 200 years women have played a fundamental role in The Old Vic’s success and we’re proud to continue that legacy.

Women make up 72% of The Old Vic’s work force with complete parity across our leadership team and overall pay.

Here we celebrate the hard working women of The Old Vic. From our founding patrons to members of the Production team, they offer a unique insight into The Old Vic.

Princess Charlotte died before the theatre was actually built, but the theatre-loving heir presumptive to the British throne became patron to a new theatre in Waterloo and the foundation stone was laid on 14 September 1816.

Without Charlotte’s funding and name attached to the project, who knows if enough money would have been raised to build the theatre that still stands on The Cut today?

Together with her lover David Osbaldiston, Eliza Vincent took on the lease of The Royal Victoria in 1841. Born in 1815 to a newspaper seller in Blackfriars Road, she was a promising child performer who became a soubrette at Covent Garden. After her move to The Royal Victoria, she found herself on the front page of The Daughters of Thespis with an article that read: ‘Announced in the largest of type in the largest bills at the largest of minor theatres, as the acknowledged heroine of domestic drama.’

She became The Royal Victoria’s leading lady, where she stayed for 15 years – longer than any management before Lilian Baylis – cementing the theatre’s reputation as one of ‘the best in London North or South of the river'. In 1852 she took over the lease entirely following Osbaldiston’s death. She died in 1856 at the age of 41.

Here we see The Duchess of York as she arrived at the famous Old Vic Theatre to unveil a memorial tablet to the late Miss Emma Cons, founder of the theatre.

Emma served as manager of The Old Vic for 32 years until her death on 24 July 1912. Committed to improving the lives of some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in society, Emma was a strict advocate for temperance and under her management, no plays were performed and no alcoholic drinks were served.

In addition to the music-hall variety programmed instead, Emma also instigated temperance meetings and weekly lectures at the cost of one penny. These soon expanded to form Morley College, making Emma one of the earlier pioneers of the technical institute.

Together with her Aunt Emma, Lilian Baylis managed The Royal Victoria Hall from 1884 until Emma’s death in 1912. Lilian went on to manage the theatre for the next 25 years, bringing theatre back to the stage. Under her management, the theatre continued to operate throughout the First World War amidst the air raids, it was the first theatre to perform all 36 plays in Shakespeare’s First Folio and it became the birthplace of the English National Opera, the Sadler’s Wells dance company and a theatre company that would become the National Theatre.

She helped to nurture the careers of the likes of Laurence Olivier, John Gielgud, Peggy Ashcroft, Sybil Thorndike, Edith Evans, Alec Guinness, Michael Redgrave, Maurice Evans and Ralph Richardson. In 1924 she became the first woman in history to receive an honorary master’s degree from Oxford University for her work in the theatre and was made a Companion of Honour in 1929 for service to the nation.

Her motto, ‘Dare, Always Dare’ sits proudly in our foyer as a constant reminder of the spirit with which she ran The Old Vic.

Today, theatre impresario Sally Greene is Founding Trustee of the theatre after forming a charitable trust to purchase it when, in 1997, The Old Vic was put up for sale. Bids came in from developers looking to turn the theatre into a shopping centre, bingo hall and even a lap-dancing club. A charitable trust was formed and acquired the building for £1.5m, saving it for the nation. Now, 72% of The Old Vic’s permanent workforce are women, and 75% of senior management are women – each leaving a legacy of their own in whichever area of the theatre they work.

Votes for Women and a fractured family, at a momentous hour in British history.

100 years after the first women in Britain were granted the vote, Kate Prince combines dance, hip hop, soul and funk to shed new light on a remarkable story at the heart of the Suffragette movement.

Co-written by Kate Prince and Priya Parmar with original music by Josh Cohen and DJ Walde, Sylvia is a modern musical celebrating the life of Sylvia Pankhurst, her pivotal role in the campaign for women’s rights and the price of the passion and politics that tore her family apart.

Supporting the Mayor’s #BehindEveryGreatCity campaign to celebrate the centenary of the first women winning the right to vote and tackle gender inequality in London.

On 4 March 2018 Sylvia took to the stage at Trafalgar Square to welcome the 5,000 women and men who marched from the Houses of Parliament in support of gender equality.

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