Bristol's links to film and theatre include it being the birthplace of Cary Grant, where Aardman Animations started - famous for Morph and Wallace & Gromit and Laurence Oliver opening the Old Vic Theatre School. No-one has done more for the Bristol accent than comedian Justin Lee Collins and the nineties saw several influential bands originating from the city including Massive Attack, Portishead, Tricky and Goldfrapp. No wonder Bristol is the arts centre for the South West, if not further afield, attracting and producing high quality theatre, concerts and shows.
A visit to the city is not complete without at least trying to sample some of the arts on offer. There's every kind of show being hosted in Bristol's theatres from mainstream, West-End theatre and musicals to innovative, locally produced shows in a range of smaller theatres across the city. Classical and contemporary music is available in historic venues and purpose-built concert halls. Below is a brief guide to the main venues.
Bristol Hippodrome in the centre of the city stages a full programme of musicals, opera, ballet, dance, comedy as well as family entertainment and children's shows. It regularly hosts West End and Broadway Shows. The theatre dates from 1912 and is one of the few buildings that survived the Blitz in World War II, but it did suffer a fire that destroyed the stage. The auditorium was saved and still evokes that bygone era of burlesque elegance. It is now a Grade II listed building. There are three levels of seating and is one of the largest theatres outside London able to seat a 1,951 audience.
Not far from The Hippodrome is Colston Hall. This sits on the location of a Tudor mansion that Queen Elizabeth I visited in 1574. However, it has housed a concert hall since 1867 when architects Foster and Wood created what still stands today as a fine example of the Bristol Byzantine style of architecture - despite a fire that gutted the whole building leaving only the external walls in 1898. Like the Hippodrome, it is now a Grade II listed building.
Bristol Old Vic is renowned for producing critically acclaimed works both from the classics and contemporary material, rather than the more commercial productions hosted at the Hippodrome. It has a traditional Georgian auditorium and two theatres on the complex, the Main House and the Studio. It is also home to the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School opened by Laurence Olivier in 1946. The theatre was refurbished in 2008.
For lunchtime and evening concerts try St George's Bristol, a former church building on Brandon Hill, in Bristol's West End, just off Park Street. The 560 seat concert hall is renowned for its classical, jazz and world music performances. The box office access is from Great George Street or the top entrance with dedicated disabled access on Charlotte Street). There is a bar and cafe in the restored crypt that serves pre-show dinners - best to book in advance to avoid disappointment.
There are several other venues around Bristol for music, arts and comedy including The Tobacco Factory saved from demolition and urban regeneration, is now an arts centre. It produces its own productions as well as hosting arts activities and touring productions. The Academy on Frogmore Street is a major venue for live music and top UK club nights in the centre of Bristol and catch great live comedy shows at the Jongleurs Comedy Club.