Tanya Gold Tanya Gold

The Pit of hipsterdom

I hated it. But then I was already angry about the lobby carpet

Penny is an all-day café in the former Pit Bar in the basement of the Old Vic, a famous and charismatic theatre on the road to south London. I love the Old Vic on its pavement peninsula on The Cut by Waterloo. Sirens screech past; after a particularly calamitous accident, you can hear them from the stalls. (Best to see a musical here; A took me to Kiss Me, Kate when we married, to show he understood me.) It feels — although this may be a lie — like theatre for The People, as they might be but almost never are. It is fierce, shabby and rigorous, although during the 1980 Peter O’Toole Macbeth the laughter carried as far as the trains chugging out to Dorking. Now that Kevin Spacey, the film star and artistic director who signed autographs through a hole in the door, like a proper maniac, has left, the Old Vic feels once more like the London of dreams.

It is a disappointment, therefore, to discover that the Pit Bar, now named Penny — for the Penny Lectures held at the Old Vic in 1882 — is a dismal hipster café, destroyed by the enemies of the very drama it should adore: laziness and lack of imagination, plus the unwise application of pot plants. For each item sold, a penny will be donated to a charity ‘inspired by the theme of the show’; who or what they will support for The Master Builder, I do not know. They do these things better — and as cheaply — at Shoreditch House, and that was never a world-famous Victorian theatre.

It is true that my anger begins to curl when I realise the Old Vic has ripped out the lobby carpets and replaced them with some evil, too-dark flooring of the sort that belongs in rental flats beloved by accountants who clutch only their own fear.

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