Pentagram rebrands London’s Old Vic theatre

London theatre The Old Vic has launched a new visual identity designed by Pentagram to mark the arrival of new artistic director Matthew Warchus. The identity draws inspiration from London’s ghost signs and the theatre’s archive of advertising posters…


Matthew Warchus replaced Kevin Spacey as artistic director at The Old Vic in Autumn last year. The theatre’s new identity was designed by Pentagram and launched last month to mark the start of its 2016-17 season.

The identity uses Akzidenz Grotesk Bold Extended. The type appears on posters and a 2016-17 season brochure and was also adapted to create the The Old Vic’s new logotype. 

“Matthew wanted [the brand identity] to feel emotional and raw,” says Pentagram partner Harry Pearce. “The typography is very simple, but it’s done with a huge amount of detail and craft and that’s the spirit you get from it … there’s a directness and optimism and self–confidence.”

Pearce says the identity system was inspired by ghost signs and hand-painted type found on buildings around London. He also looked to The Old Vic’s archives in Bristol.

“I looked through every single poster [in the archive] and they were absolutely wonderful. There was a very simple, direct approach to some of these old posters – some of them were 99 percent typographic, so they were an amazing inspiration for this. We thought, ‘let’s just get back to doing things made for the job’. So much of the spirit of what we’ve done is lifted from that – not in terms of the design aesthetic but the spirit of it, that directness,” he says.

While the identity draws on vintage advertising, it avoids pastiche and instead feels fresh and contemporary. “That was our vision, to create something that felt very contemporary, but with one foot in the spirit of the past,” says Pearce.

The theatre’s logotype is used alongside play titles on posters to promote its connection with productions. “It’s not a separate mark that sits apart, it’s written into the story as if it’s part of the opening sentence,” says Pearce. “That was very much about reflecting that what happens here is unique to The Old Vic and that [the plays and the theatre] are inseparable.” Type is arranged using a grid system devised by Pentagram and posters feature text in varying sizes.

Pentagram also designed a set of illustrated posters for this season’s plays featuring portraits of leading actors. Rupert Smissen was commissioned to paint No’s Knife star Lisa Dwan, AKSE created a large-scale image of Woyzeck lead John Boyega and Sue Spaull painted Glenda Jackson, who is currently playing King Lear. Pearce says paintings were used instead of photographs to make posters feel more “raw” and “contemporary”.

Posters feature some striking colour combinations – from dark green and bright pink to purple, orange, yellow and blue. Some combinations are inspired by source material or key themes in plays – a poster for Conor McPherson’s Girl From The North Country, for example, which features music by Bob Dylan, uses colours from a Dylan album cover. “With others, it was just about trying to create colour sets that felt fresh and different to what other theatres are doing,” says Pearce.

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