The Bristol Old Vic is Britain's oldest working theatre. It was founded in 1766, making it older than the United States of America and the University of London.
The theatre in King Street, Bristol was designed by James Saunders, David Garrick's carpenter at the Drury Lane theatre. Garrick delivered the prologue and epilogue of the first performance, billed as "a concert with a specimen of rhetorick" to get around the restrictions on theatres caused by the lack of a Royal Licence. This situation persisted until 1778, when Letters Patent were granted by the crown, allowing the theatre to change its name to the Theatre Royal. a name that the main theatre bears to this day.
The Bristol Old Vic Theatre Company was founded in 1946, with Hugh Hunt as its forst artistic director. Early members of the company included Peter O'Toole, John Neville, Timothy West and Dorothy Tutin. The Theatre School was opened by Laurence Olivier shortly afterwards. Alumni of the school include Gene Wilder, Miranda Richardson, Naomie Harris, Jeremy Irons and Pete Postlethwaite.
The theatre was closed for refurbishment in August 2007, reopening in December 2008. The foyer was redeveloped further in 2018. Today, the Grade I listed building houses the Theatre Royal and the new Weston Studio. Its reputation is worldwide. When Hollywood star Christopher Walken was asked why he was appearing in the Bristol-set BBC comedy-drama Outlaws, he said that he wanted to come to Bristol because it was the home of the Old Vic!