Where did you first see Naomie Harris?

… or Billy Howle, or Laura Carmichael, or Josh O’Connor, or Olivia Coleman, or Joseph Mawle or …. the list goes on and on. If you live in the South West, the chances are it might have been on stage at your local village hall, or maybe arts centre.

All of them learned their stagecraft at Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, following in the footsteps of Pete Postlethwaite, Daniel Day Lewis, Patrick Stewart, Greta Scacchi, Brian Blessed, Samantha Bond, Jeremy Irons, Gene Wilder, Tim Pigott Smith, Peter O’Toole, Joan Plowright etc etc etc.

For many years, the students’ first public performances came with the annual summer tour, a classic play with a big cast that started in Bristol and toured villages and towns across the southwest region. The tours were eagerly anticipated and wildly successful. Young actors had the chance not only to learn about the requirements of touring, but to meet their audiences in intimate performance spaces, each one different and offering its own challenges.

Local promoters booked performances, and, when the venue was too far from Bristol, supporters offered a bed for the night and breakfast. From then on, the hosts followed the careers of their guests, often travelling long distances to see their plays when their casting took them to major cities or to London, and scouring cast lists of films and television.

The pandemic put a stop to 2020 and 2021 tours, but BOVTS was back on the road again in 2022, with a colourful, gender-swapping and exciting version of Vanity Fair (pictured). It sold out at every venue.

But don’t look out for a tour this year. Promoters have been informed, via round robin from the marketing department, that the curriculum doesn’t allow a tour. The students will instead perform a collection of short plays at a “Summer Festival” at Bristol Old Market’s Wardrobe Theatre.

Not only does this deprive them of the chance to learn about touring, one of the traditional elements of stage performance in the UK and dating back to before the days of Shakespeare, but it will make it incredibly difficult for audiences from the villages and towns to see them in their student productions and to watch their development from beginner to star.

Is this another example of the box-ticking of Department of Culture, Media and Sport bureaucrats and capital-centric politicians imposing un-thought through rules, or of BOVTS administrators putting expenditure before experience, expediency before entertainment, apathy before audiences.

Bristol Old Vic Theatre School opened 77 years ago, and has been the seed-bed for countless actors, directors and writers. If you want to see the acting students back on a stage near you, write to the organisation NOW. Fiona Francombe is the principal and CEO. Phone 0117 973 3535 or send an email to enquiries@nulloldvic.ac.uk – or get onto any platform that takes your fancy and attracts most readers.