Royal Mail marks the bicentenary of The Old Vic with Special Stamps

Royal Mail marks the bicentenary of The Old Vic with Special Stamps

Key points

  • A set of eight stamps will be issued to mark the 200th anniversary of The Old Vic
  • The stamps depict outstanding perfomances of some of the UK’s most revered actors at The Old Vic. They are: Richard Burton in Henry V; Judi Dench and John Stride in Romeo and Juliet; 1960, Laurence Olivier in The Dance of Death, 1967; Maggie Smith in Hedda Gabler; 1970, Ralph Richardson and John Gielgud in No Man’s Land, 1975; Albert Finney in Hamlet, 1975; Sharon Benson in Carmen Jones, 1991  and Glenda Jackson in King Lear, 2016
  • Sharon Benson who played Carmen Jones, said of seeing her stamp for the first time: “When I first saw a picture of it last year, I thought ‘wow!’ 
  • The Old Vic, originally called the Royal Coburg, opened in May 1818
  • Royal Mail worked with former Times theatre critic, Benedict Nightingale on the stamp issue
  • Richard Burton’s daughter, actress Kate Burton, said her father would ‘be absolutely thrilled. It’s an important tribute.’ 
  • The stamps and souvenir products can be pre-ordered now from Opens in new window and are available on general sale from 7,000 Post Offices nationwide from 30 August 2018

Royal Mail is to issue a set of eight Special Stamps to mark the bicentenary of The Old Vic, one of the most important venues in the UK’s performing arts history.  

The Old Vic has played an important part in the development of modern British theatre, with many great actors making their names on its influential stage. This stamp issue commemorates eight of these actors atThe Old Vic, since the 1950s:

  • Richard Burton – Henry V, 1955
  • Judi Dench and John Stride – Romeo and Juliet, 1960
  • Laurence Olivier – The Dance of Death, 1967
  • Maggie Smith – Hedda Gabler, 1970
  • Ralph Richardson and John Gielgud – No Man’s Land, 1975
  • Albert Finney – Hamlet, 1975
  • Sharon Benson – Carmen Jones, 1991
  • Glenda Jackson – King Lear, 2016

The Old Vic, was originally called the Royal Coburg and first opened in May 1818. It was built on  reclaimed marshland, 300 yards south of the newly built Waterloo Bridge.

The theatre could hold 3,800 people and offered everything from spectacular melodramas to Shakespeare revivals.

The theatre was renamed the Royal Victoria in 1833.

In 1871, the auditorium was replaced with a far finer 2,300-seater and renamed The Old Vic. It was bought by temperance reformers and, under Emma Cons, became an alcohol-free music hall. Cons was succeeded in 1912 by her niece Lilian Baylis.

‘The Vic’ soon became the world’s premier Shakespearean theatre. Edith Evans, Sybil Thorndike, Peggy Ashcroft, John Gielgud,Ralph Richardson and Alec Guinness all gave their first great classical performances here. Tyrone Guthrie directed a glamorous young film starnamed Laurence Olivier as Hamlet, Henry V and Iago. There was a hiatus between 1940 and 1950, after bombing had left The Old Vic unusable as a theatre, but then Richard Burton came to play Hamlet, Coriolanus and an award-winning Henry V during a five-year season in which all Shakespeare’s plays were staged.

Sharon Benson, who played Carmen Jones, said of seeing her stamp for the first time: “When I first saw a picture of it last year I thought ‘wow!’ That was my favourite outfit and the song I’m singing is The Card Song, one of my favourite songs in the whole production. They’ve picked the best image to depict my favourite memory of the performance. It’s such a strong scene. Everyone’s in silver and Carmen walks in wearing this red outfit… I’m getting chills just thinking about it!”

Actress, Kate Burton, said of her father, Richard, “He’d be absolutely thrilled. It’s an important tribute. It’s a fitting tribute. I’m so happy that dad is being recognised for his brilliant work on stage because, god knows, he had such a wonderful colourful life, never a dull moment, but he was an unbelievably gifted actor. “

The 1950s also saw the professional debut of Judi Dench who went on to star as Juliet in Franco Zeffirelli’s production of Romeo and Juliet. The 1960s saw The Old Vic become the home of the new National Theatre under Laurence Olivier, who gave a renowned performance in The Dance of Death. In the 1970s Maggie Smith won an Evening Standard Best Actress Award for her portrayal of Hedda Gabler and Albert Finney was a memorable Hamlet. In 1975 John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson gave unforgettable performances in Harold Pinter’s No Man’s Land.

The 80s saw an uncertain future for The Old Vic. In the 1990s, Carmen Jones wowed audiences and ran for a whole season, and featured Sharon Benson in the title role. As we entered the millennium, Sally Greene formed a charitable trust to acquire the theatre.

Matthew Warchus, an acclaimed director, became Artist Director in 2015 and opened his first season with the new play Future Conditional by Tamsin Oglesby.

To date he has also directed RalphFiennes in Ibsen’s The Master Builder, Pinter’s The Caretaker, the musical Groundhog Day, a revival of Yasmina Reza’s ‘ART’ and Jack Thorne’s adaptation of Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. In 2016, Glenda Jackson returned to the stage after 25 years in an acclaimed King Lear.

Today, aged 200 years, The Old Vic continues to thrive.

The Old Vic Artistic Director, Matthew Warchus, said: “As we celebrate a long history of inspiring creativity in this iconic building, and look to a bright future of uplifting, adventurous and accessible theatre-making, we are delighted to be collaborating with Royal Mail on this special stamp edition to mark The Old Vic’s 200th birthday.”

Philip Parker, Royal Mail, said: “The Old Vic is remarkable. So many of our finest actors have trodden its boards and it has been instrumental in shaping UK theatre. Our striking new stamps celebrate this with great actors in unforgettable roles at The Old Vic.”

The stamps and souvenir products can be pre-ordered now from Opens in new window and available on general sale from 7,000 Post Offices nationwide from 30 August 2018.

Note to Editors
About Royal Mail Special Stamps 
For more than 50 years, Royal Mail’s Special Stamp programme has commemorated anniversaries and celebrated events relevant to UK heritage and life. Today, there are an estimated 2.5 million stamp collectors and gift givers in the UK and millions worldwide. Her Majesty The Queen approves all UK stamp designs before they are issued.
About Royal Mail plc
Royal Mail plc is the parent company of Royal Mail Group Limited, the leading provider of postal and delivery services in the UK and the UK’s designated universal postal service provider. UK Parcels, International and Letters (“UKPIL”) comprises the company’s UK and international parcels and letters delivery businesses operating under the “Royal Mail” and “Parcelforce Worldwide” brands. Through the Royal Mail Core Network, the company delivers a one-price-goes-anywhere service on a range of parcels and letters products. Royal Mail has the capability to deliver to more than 29 million addresses in the UK, six days a week (excluding UK public holidays). Parcelforce Worldwide operates a separate UK network which collects and delivers express parcels. Royal Mail also owns General Logistics Systems (GLS) which operates one of the largest ground-based, deferred parcel delivery networks in Europe.
Royal Mail Press Office on 14 August 2018
Natasha Ayivor 
100 Victoria Embankment
London EC4Y 0HQ
Tel: 02074498250
Email: Opens in new window
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