A complete guide to the Old Vic and the Young Vic

Learn all about the history of these neighbouring London venues, and how to tell them apart – plus exciting upcoming shows to book for.

Marianka Swain
Marianka Swain

If you head to Waterloo station, you’ll find yourself within walking distance of not one but two leading London theatres with “Vic” in their name: the Old Vic and the Young Vic. Both are situated on The Cut in south-east London, about a five-minute stroll apart.

These popular subsidised venues are also both theatrical hotspots, programming an enticing range of cutting-edge new work and illuminating revivals – plays, musicals, and more. This year you’ll find a new political drama starring James Corden, a gig-theatre piece led by Giles Terera, and a starry Tom Stoppard revival, among other must-see productions.

So, what should you know about the Old Vic and the Young Vic, and what are the major differences between them? Find all the answers in our handy guide.

The history of the Old Vic and Young Vic

The Old Vic, as you might guess, was established long before its younger sibling. It was originally called the Royal Coburg Theatre, built in 1818, but renamed the Royal Victoria Theatre in 1833 when it came under the patronage of Victoria, Duchess of Kent, whose daughter, then a princess, went on to become Queen Victoria. The royal duo saw a performance of opera and dance there on 28 November.

The venue was rebuilt in 1871 and became the Royal Victoria Palace, but people were already referring to it as the “Old Vic” – a name which stuck. Lilian Baylis took it over in 1912, championing ballet there in rotation with drama. The latter was dominated by the newly established Old Vic Company, under the leadership of Sir John Gielgud.

Michael Benthall became Artistic Director in 1953, programming Shakespeare’s First Folio in his Five Year Plan, starring luminaries like Richard Burton, Claire Bloom, John Neville, and Judi Dench.

Later leaders included Jonathan Miller, Sir Peter Hall, Kevin Spacey, and current Artistic Director Matthew Warchus, who has just announced that he will be stepping down in 2026.

The Young Vic theatre, in contrast, only dates back to 1970 – although there was a brief offshoot of the Old Vic company called the Young Vic in 1946, which performed classical plays for young audiences.

Astonishingly, the venue was built by Frank Dunlop out of a butcher’s shop and a bomb site. In the 2000s, architects Haworth Tompkins refurbished it and added two smaller performing spaces, The Maria and The Clare.

Dunlop was also the Young Vic’s first Artistic Director, followed by Michael Bogdanov, David Thacker, Julia Bardsley, Tim Supple, David Lan, and finally Kwame Kwei-Armah. He took over in 2018, and, like Warchus, has just announced the end to his tenure. Nadia Fall, who currently runs Theatre Royal Stratford East, will become the next Artistic Director in January 2025.

It will be fascinating to see how these two thriving London theatres fare under exciting new leadership – watch this space!

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The performing spaces at the Old Vic and Young Vic

Both are midsize venues, although the Old Vic’s main auditorium is about twice the size. The Old Vic has a seating capacity of around 1,000, and has some ornate decoration like a chandelier. Although it is usually proscenium arch staging, seats can be moved for shows staged in other ways, like in the round.

The Young Vic’s main space is also flexible, though often works as a thrust stage (meaning seats on three sides). That gives it a greater degree of intimacy, unlike the more traditional West End staging – the audience is up close to the performers and “thrust” into their world.

The Young Vic also has two even more intimate studio spaces. The Maria (named for designer Maria Björnson) has a capacity of around 150, while The Clare (named for director Clare Venables) seats around 70. Both are similarly flexible and usually have unreserved seating.

Shows at the Old Vic and Young Vic

Both theatres tend to range between new work and revivals. The emphasis changes depending on who’s in charge – for example, there were more starry revivals at the Old Vic in the Kevin Spacey years, while the Young Vic shifted towards programming more European playwrights under David Lam, and has seen plenty of American work under Kwame Kwei-Armah.

The Old Vic has recently developed a strong reputation for musicals, premiering hit shows like Groundhog Day and Girl from the North Country – both of which transferred to Broadway.

The Young Vic has also hosted acclaimed musicals, albeit often socially conscious productions such as Fun Home and The Scottsboro Boys. You’ll often find experimental or genre-defying work here, as well as radical versions of the classics.

But overall there’s a thrilling spirit of discovery at both venues, whether it’s a bold take on a familiar show or the premiere of something completely new. Since they are partly subsidised (instead of purely commercial) venues, there is freedom to explore. You could well see the next West End or Broadway sensation here first.

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Food and drink at the Old Vic and Young Vic

The Old Vic has a lovely café/bar on the basement level – you can drop in any time, even if you’re not seeing a show, and you’ll find excellent small dishes with an emphasis on sustainable and local produce. There are also bars on each of the theatre levels.

The Young Vic similarly has a big, funky bar and restaurant, The Cut, when you enter on ground level – plus some rooftop space with a great view. It’s a fun meeting spot during the day, whether you’re grabbing a coffee or tucking into its contemporary European menu, and always buzzy at night.

Significant productions at the Old Vic and Young Vic

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Old Vic

  • The Philadelphia Story, 2005: Kevin Spacey began his tenure by starring in this classic American play (the non-musical version of High Society).
  • The Norman Conquests, 2008: This major revival of Alan Ayckbourn’s trilogy featured Stephen Mangan, Jessica Hynes, Ben Miles, Amanda Root, Paul Ritter, and Amelia Bullmore.
  • Design for Living, 2010: Andrew Scott, Tom Burke, and Lisa Dillon played the artistic throuple in Noël Coward’s risqué comedy.
  • Noises Off, 2011: Michael Frayn’s side-splitting backstage farce had a brilliant revival here, led by Celia Imrie, Robert Glenister, and Janie Dee.
  • The Duchess of Malfi and Hedda Gabler, 2012: Two towering lead performances from great actresses in this season – respectively, Eve Best and Sheridan Smith.
  • High Society, 2015: The bookend to Spacey’s reign, and a glorious musical production led by Kate Fleetwood, Jamie Parker, and Rupert Young, directed by Maria Friedman.
  • The Master Builder, 2016: Ralph Fiennes, Linda Emond, and a pre-Succession Sarah Snook gave a memorable account of Ibsen’s knotty drama.
  • Groundhog Day, 2016: Tim Minchin followed up Matilda with this phenomenal musical adaptation of the comic-philosophical movie.
  • King Lear, 2016: Deborah Warner directed the mighty Glenda Jackson in this extraordinary production of Shakespeare’s tragedy.
  • Girl from the North Country, 2017: Conor McPherson plus Bob Dylan equals musical theatre genius – a simply sublime piece of work.
  • All My Sons, 2019: this Arthur Miller revival had a knockout Anglo-American company, led by Sally Field, Bill Pullman, Jenna Coleman, and Colin Morgan.
  • Present Laughter, 2019: Andrew Scott starred as an explicitly bisexual actor, alongside Sophie Thompson and Indira Varma, in this hilarious Noël Coward play.
  • Lungs, 2019: The Crown stars Claire Foy and Matt Smith reunited for a topical revival of Duncan Macmillan’s two-hander climate crisis drama.
  • The 47th, 2022: Bertie Carvel played Donald Trump in Mike Bartlett’s terrifying blank verse future-history play.
  • Sylvia, 2023: Kate Prince told the suffragette story via hip-hop song and dance, led by Beverley Knight and Sharon Rose.
  • Just For One Day, 2024: this stirring jukebox musical revisited the day that the world was united by music – the 1985 Live Aid concert.

Oklahoma - 1200 - LT

Young Vic

  • A Doll’s House, 2012: Hattie Morahan led this inventive take on Ibsen’s proto-feminist drama, adapted by Simon Stephens and directed by Carrie Cracknell.
  • The Scottsboro Boys, 2013: Susan Stroman’s stirring production of Kander and Ebb’s musical was Olivier nominated and transferred to the West End.
  • A Streetcar Named Desire, 2014: Gillian Anderson was an unforgettable Blanche in Benedict Andrews’s radical version of Tennessee Williams.
  • A View from the Bridge, 2014: Now an international sensation, director Ivo van Hove made his name with this stripped-back Arthur Miller play, led by Mark Strong.
  • Yerma, 2016: Billie Piper was utterly shattering as a woman who can’t have children in Simon Stone’s modernised Lorca production.
  • The Jungle, 2017: Joe Robertson and Joe Murphy took us inside the Calais Jungle refugee camp in this urgent immersive drama.
  • The Inheritance, 2018: Matthew Lopez’s extraordinary Olivier and Tony-winning epic about the gay community and the legacy of AIDS became a new theatrical landmark.
  • Death of a Salesman, 2019: Marianne Elliott and Miranda Cromwell also put a new spin on Miller by casting Wendell Pierce, Sharon D Clarke, and an all-Black Loman family.
  • Fairview, 2019: Jackie Sibblies Drury’s Pulitzer-winning play memorably upended audience expectations in its bold dissection of race.
  • Best of Enemies, 2021: James Graham’s gripping political drama looked back at the 1968 presidential election TV debates between William F Buckley Jr and Gore Vidal.
  • Oklahoma!, 2022: Daniel Fish and Jordan Fein’s dark, sexy take on Rodgers and Hammerstein transferred from Broadway, starring Marisha Wallace and Arthur Darvill.

What to book at the Old Vic and Young Vic now

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The Constituent, Old Vic

Former US chat show host James Corden makes a highly anticipated return to the London stage. He co-stars with Anna Maxwell Martin in Joe Penhall’s new, timely play The Constituent, which examines British disillusionment with politicians.

Book The Constituent tickets on London Theatre.

mcardle and powley the real thing 1200 LT

The Real Thing, Old Vic

James McArdle and Bel Powley star in a major revival of Tom Stoppard’s drama The Real Thing, about relationships, theatre, truth and love.

Book The Real Thing tickets on London Theatre.

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Passing Strange, Young Vic

Giles Terera is a total rock star in the electrifying European premiere of Stew Stewart and Heidi Rodewald’s cult-hit musical, which beguilingly wanders through identity, coming-of-age, race, love, sex, drugs, and soulful songs galore.

Book Passing Strange tickets on London Theatre.

A Face in the Crowd, Young Vic

When local radio producer Marcia Jeffries interviews the incarcerated Lonesome Rhodes on her show, the story soon spirals out of control. Ramin Karimloo and Anoushka Lucas lead the intriguing European premiere of Sarah Ruhl’s drama, which features original songs by Elvis Costello.

Book A Face in the Crowd tickets on London Theatre.

The Little Foxes, Young Vic

American playwright Lillian Hellman’s legendary 1939 drama about a greedy Southern family at war over their inheritance gets a major revival by the Olivier-winning director Lyndsey Turner. Casting is TBC, but expect some big names for these juicy roles – the recent Broadway production had Laura Linney and Cynthia Nixon.

Book The Little Foxes tickets on London Theatre.

Originally published on

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