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Old Vic Theatre: £20m needed to keep historic London venue running ‘a challenge’

The Old Vic Theatre increased its loss last year despite the venue putting on the highest grossing show in its history, Groundhog Day the musical, and audience numbers returning to their pre-pandemic levels.
The Old Vic Theatre increased its loss last year despite the venue putting on the highest grossing show in its history, Groundhog Day the musical, and audience numbers returning to their pre-pandemic levels.

The Old Vic Theatre said it faces a challenge to raise the more than £20m needed to keep its historic Waterloo home in working order, as it battles to create a financial model robust enough – despite the success of its record breaking musical Groundhog Day.

The organisation behind the Grade II-listed venue has revealed the scale of the task it faces, with a pricey programme of capital works required to “maintain and advance” the building over the next two decades.

Unlike other venues, The Old Vic said it does not receive regular public sector funding, relying instead on ticket sales and its own fundraising, but added that it was “in a similar position to many others in the industry”.

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However the venue lost even more money during its last financial year despite putting on the highest grossing show in its history, Groundhog Day the musical, and audience numbers returning to their pre-pandemic levels.

How much The Old Vic Theatre Trust made was down almost £870,000 in the 12 months ending August 31, 2023 – compared to a loss of £741,000 in the previous year.

The theatre said this was despite “a significant shift” in audience behaviour with people returning to the venue in record numbers, setting a new record of 92 per cent seated capacity on every show.

In total the venue achieved £10m in box office sales – almost double the year before – with the rest of its £21m income coming from charitable donations, grants and other events.

A musical adaptation of the film Groundhog Day, which was directed by Matthew Warchus with music and lyrics by Tim Minchin, became the highest grossing show in the venue’s history as more than 90,000 people bought tickets over its 13 week run.

Other shows included A Christmas Carol, which returned to the London theatre for its sixth year – which attracted record audience numbers – and Kate Prince’s Olivier Award-nominated musical Sylvia.

But although the theatre brought in significantly more income than the previous season, its expenditure, which includes production and building costs, wages and insurance, went up by more than 40 per cent year on year.

In a report filed to Companies House, the group said the “strength of its programming” and return of audiences post-pandemic meant “the scale and ambition of the full scale productions” had increased, requiring more investment.

It added: “Major financial challenges remain with inflation, cost of living crisis and the need to invest in the infrastructure of the building.

“The Old Vic estimates a £20m+ programme of capital works are required to maintain and advance the Grade II-listed building over the next 20 years.

“It remains a challenge to create a robust financial model that would fund the capital expenditure requirements. This is a similar position to many others in the industry.”

The Old Vic hasn’t made a surplus since the 2021 financial year, when it received more than £4m in government grants to help it remain viable during the Covid-19 lock down.