Bristol Old Vic: In Safe Hands?

So, Bristol Old Vic has found itself a new artistic director.

Tom Morris strikes me as a pretty fantastic choice. As a director he has a foot in both camps - large scale and small scale - and will, if anyone is ever going to be able to, bring together the disparate artistic movements in Bristol, where you have physical theatre companies, street artists and of course a more traditional vein.

His work on War Horse shows that he is able to harness the skills of what is traditionally small-scale theatre (puppetry) and turn it into a big (and soon to be commercial) crowd pleaser.

This is what Bristol needs. Someone who can harness the abundant and very specific skills on offer in the region, but still turn out theatre that large numbers of people want to come to see.

We must remember that the problems of the previous regime were very much rooted in their inability to attract sufficient audiences.

With Emma Stenning as his executive director, Morris has someone with whom he has worked before - successfully - at Battersea Arts Centre - but also, perhaps even more importantly, someone who knows the vagueries of the arts council, having recently worked there as well.

And, as a team, they also have experience of working in a somewhat dilapidated building (The Town Hall in which BAC is sited is currently undergoing its own extended refurbishment) so they’ll be going into this with their eyes open, aware of the challenges that face them in terms of the fabric of the Bristol Theatre Royal.

Ultimately, though, the problems at BOV have been deeper than one (or even two) people. Finances for the necessary building work are still going to be a huge stumbling block - perhaps even more so now than a year ago, thanks to the global financial situation.

And we must not forget that this is an institution that came very close to losing its arts council funding, a move which could have closed it for ever. Its problems will not go away overnight.

However, as Jonathan Church has proved at Chichester, a change of personnel can bring rapid rewards…

What do you think - Will Morris and Stenning be enough to rescue one of the UK’s leading producing theatres?

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