Lyric Theatre



  • (1) A theater that opened in 1888 in Hammersmith, west London,as the Lyric Hall. Two years later it was redesigned as the LyricOpera house, after which it presented melodramas. After the King'sTheatre, Hammersmith, opened in 1902, its fortunes declined untilit became known locally as the 'Blood and Flea Pit.'

    In 1918 Nigel Playfair took over the venue and renamed itthe Lyric Theatre, making it fashionable with such productions asJohn Gay's The Beggar's Opera, which opened in 1920 to runfor three and a half years and 1463 performances. Claude Lovat Fraser'sromantic stage designs for the Lyric initiated a new trend in the1920s. Playfair also revived two plays in which Edith Evans enjoyedmajor triumphs; Congreve's The Way of the World (1924), inwhich she played Millamant, and Farquhar's The Beaux' Stratagem(1927), in which she played Mrs Sullen. Ellen Terry made her finalstage appearance here in 1925, as a ghost in Walter de la Mare's Crossings.

    After Fairplay left in 1933 the theater again declined. Itremained closed for some time before Baxter Somerville took it overin 1944. He subsequently revitalized it with productions by John Mortimer,Harold Pinter, and others. In 1946 Alec Guinness appeared in his ownadaptation of Dostoyevsky's The Brothers Karamazov, directedby Peter Brook, and in 1953 John Gielgud led the cast in Otway's VenicePreserved. Within three years of Somerville's death in 1963, however,the Lyric again closed.

    In 1979 a new Lyric Theatre seating 537 was built on KingStreet using the original Victorian plasterwork. The opening productionwas Shaw's You Never Can Tell. The building also houses thesmaller Lyric Studio Theatre, seating about 100. In recent decades workfor and involving children has played a major part in the Lyric's programme.

    (2) The oldest surviving theater on London's Shaftesbury Avenue(the original Shaftesbury Theatre having been destroyed by bombingin 1941). Seating 948, the Lyric opened in 1888 with Marie Tempest in thecomic opera Dorothy. This work had proved unsuccessful at two othertheaters but after some judicious changes made a profit of some £100,000.The theater continued to specialize in comic operas for several years.

    The great Eleonora Duse made her first London appearance at the Lyricin 1892, in The Lady of the Camellias. US stars to appear includedTallulah Bankhead in Let Us Be Gay (1929) and Alfred Lunt and his wifeLynn Fontanne in Reunion in Vienna (1934) and Terence Rattigan'sLove-in-Idleness (1944). Other successful productions included TheLittle Hut (1950), starring Robert Morley, which ran for 1261 performances,Alan Bennett's Habeas Corpus (1973), with Alec Guinness, and theNational Theatre company's staging of Ayckbourn's A chorus of Disapproval(1986). In 1990 it staged the musical Five Guys Named Moe, which won aLaurence Olivier Award and ran for over five years. Recent productions haveincluded the powerful Festen (2004), revivals of Death of aSalesman (2005) and Cabaret (2006), and the Michael Jackson-inspiredmusical Thriller - Live (2009).