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The Unforgotten, Young Vic, 2020
Photo by Aaron Imuere

The Young Vic turns 50 with an outdoor exhibition of Black icons and more

There’s also a film celebrating five decades of brilliance, and a weekend of actual live performances

By
Andrzej Lukowski
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One of London’s bravest and boldest theatres, the Young Vic first opened in 1970 as a young people’s offshoot of the National Theatre, and since 1974 it’s very much done its own thing. For much of the ’00s it was run by David Lan, who brought visionary European directors to London for the first time; his successor, Kwame Kwei-Armah, is London’s first Black artistic director, who had a thrilling 2020 season lined up before you-know-what closed all the stages.

Apparently the original plan for the theatre’s fiftieth birthday was a street party with 50 stages. This absolutely isn’t happening, but there’s still very much a celebration of sorts. In fact, several sorts of celebration. 

The most obvious will be on the building’s exterior: ‘YV 50th Projection Project’ is a video celebrating the people and productions of the last five decades, that will be projected on to the outside of the building every night, 7.30pm-10.30pm, from today until October 4 (excluding Sundays).

They’ll be joined by ‘The Unforgotten’, an interactive outdoor exhibition (again on the exterior of the building) celebrating the lives of three unsung Black heroes: British-Jamaican nurse and businesswoman Mary Seacole, American LGBTQ+ activist Marsha P Johnson and Ulric Cross, Trinidadian diplomat and war hero. Designed by artists Sadeysa Greenaway-Bailey and Anna Fleischle, the work invites Young Vic audiences to write down their own hero nominations on the side of the building, in response to a series of provocations written by Jennifer Akre.

Finally – actual live performance in the theatre! ‘The New Tomorrow’ (October 3 and 4) is a free festival comprised of pieces by writers and artists – including Jade Anouka, Marina Carr, Jasmine Lee-Jones, Ruth Madeley, Amy Ng, Stef Smith, Jack Thorne, Isobel Waller-Bridge and Steve Waters – that will aim to explore what the next 50 years might hold. Performers are TBC, but don’t bet against some big names. The performance will be streamed via Facebook Live, with a limited number of in-person tickets also available via ticket lottery.

Okay, it’s not a 50-stage street party. But as celebrations go, it seems eminently worthy of one of London’s – and the world’s – most important theatres.

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