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The Lyric Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue, London, W.1

The Lyric Theatre during the run of ''Thriller' in April 2014 - Photo M. L.

Above - The Lyric Theatre during the run of ''Thriller' in April 2014 - Photo M. L.

 

 

Pre 1907 seating plan for the Lyric Theatre - Click to Enlarge.See a Seating Plan for this Theatre with non commercial and independent opinions on the best seats to book - From Seatplan.co.ukSee London's West End TheatresSee Theatreland MapsThe Lyric Theatre opened on the 17th of December 1888 with a Comic Opera called 'Dorothy' by B.C. Stephenson. This production had originally opened at the first Gaiety Theatre, then transferred to the Prince of Wales Theatre, where it achieved 817 performances, before transferring to the Lyric for this new Theatre's opening.

The Lyric was the second Theatre to be built fronted onto the newly constructed Shaftesbury Avenue, the first was the original Shaftesbury Theatre which opened two months earlier in October 1888.

Programme for 'Othello' at the Lyric Theatre in 1897 - Click to see Entire Programme.However, the London Pavilion which opened in 1885 can really lay claim to being the true first Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue because a large bulk of the building runs along it, however, although it had entrances on that street, its main entrance was on Piccadilly Circus.

Right - A Programme for 'Othello' at the Lyric Theatre in 1897 - Click to see Entire Programme.

The Lyric Theatre forms part of a block which includes the Apollo Theatre and the Windmill Theatre, but the Lyric takes up most of the frontage of the block. The Lyric's stage door and dressing rooms are on Great Windmill Street, next to the Windmill's main entrance, and it used to have a Gallery entrance on Archer Street at the back of the Theatre. The Lyric is now one of four Theatres in a row on Shaftesbury Avenue; the others being the Apollo, Gielgud, and Queens.

The auditorium and stage of the Lyric Theatre in 1889 - From 'London Theatres and Music Halls' by Dianna Howard - The original is at the Brtish Museum.Left - The auditorium and stage of the Lyric Theatre in 1889 - From 'London Theatres and Music Halls' by Dianna Howard - The original is at the British Museum.

The Lyric Theatre was designed by the well known Theatre Architect C. J. Phipps and built for Henry J. Leslie by Messrs Stephens and Bastow.

Henry Leslie financed the building of his new Theatre from the profits of 'Dorothy' from which he apparently made the huge sum, at the time, of £100,000. The Theatre's Freehold is today owned by the Theatres Trust.

 

The Lyric Theatre's Windmill Street Facade showing the remains of the house that once stood there, now the Lyric's dressing room block and stage door entrance. - Phot M.L. 06.The Lyric's Windmill Street Facade is interesting in that it is actually the remains of a house which once stood there.

The house was built in 1766 by Dr William Hunter, who was an anatomist, partly as a home and partly as an anatomical theatre and museum.

Internally the house was gutted to make way for the Lyric's dressing rooms but externally it is still much in its original form.

The rear of the house was demolished so that the Lyric's stage could be built on the site.

On the Windmill Street Facade today there is a Blue Plaque to commemorate the original building.

Right - The Lyric Theatre's Windmill Street Facade showing the remains of the house that once stood there, now the Lyric's dressing room block and stage door entrance. M. L. 06.

The Lyric Theatre's partly cantilevered auditorium was built on four levels, Stalls and Pit, Dress Circle, Upper Circle, and Gallery, and had a capacity on opening of 1,306.

 

Early postcard showing the Lyric and Apollo Theatres side by side in Shaftesbury Avenue.Today the Gallery is called the Balcony and the Theatre seats a more modest 967. The stage at the Lyric was large for a playhouse with a width of 29' 6" and depth of 36'.

Left - An early postcard showing the Lyric and Apollo Theatres side by side in Shaftesbury Avenue.

The Lyric Theatre during the run of 'Grab me a Gondola' in 1958 - Courtesy Gerry AtkinsThe Theatre is unusual in that it still uses water to operate its iron curtain. Originally this was pumped from the Thames to most of the Theatres and Hotels around London's West End, and used to hydraulically operate lifts and all manor of heavy machinery. Today the Lyric's Iron Curtain is operated via an electric pump but can also be operated manually by two people at a time, though it's a very labour intensive job, and slow too.

The Lyric was also fitted with a large revolve which is still operable today, either by a huge and ancient electric rectifier or by hand.

Right - The Lyric Theatre during the run of 'Grab me a Gondola' in 1958 - Courtesy Gerry Atkins.

 

Programme for 'The Medal and The Maid,' a musical comedy with Ada Reeve and Ruth Vincent produced at the Lyric Theatre in April 1903. Programme for 'The Duchess Of Dantzic,' a romantic opera by Henry Hamilton, produced at the Lyric Theatre during the end of the Forbes-Robertson season in October 1903, a musical version of the story of Napoleon, which ran for 236 performance.

Above Left - A Programme for 'The Medal and The Maid,' a musical comedy with Ada Reeve and Ruth Vincent produced at the Lyric Theatre during the end of the Forbes-Robertson season in April 1903. And Right - A Programme for 'The Duchess Of Dantzic,' a romantic opera by Henry Hamilton, produced at the Lyric Theatre during the end of the Forbes-Robertson season in October 1903, a musical version of the story of Napoleon, which ran for 236 performance.

A Seating Plan for the Lyric Theatre, date unknown, possibly mid 1920s

Above - A Seating Plan for the Lyric Theatre, date unknown, possibly mid 1920s

Shaftesbury Avenue in June 1977 showing the Lyric, Apollo, Globe, and Queen's Theatres - Photo M.L. 1977.

Above - Shaftesbury Avenue in June 1977 showing the Lyric, Apollo, Globe, and Queen's Theatres
Photo M.L. 1977.

The Lighting Console Desk at the Lyric Theatre in 1976. Photo M.L. I worked at the Lyric Theatre myself from 1975 for 4 years, and the lighting board at that time was one of the early Rank Strand Console Desks (CD) (Shown Right). The cabinet was fashioned from an organ and it even had pedals and tabs to operate lighting groups. This CD board was the two preset version which made life much easier as the original version, used at Her Majesty's Theatre at the same time, had organ keys instead of presets. Although I worked there too in 1975, I was never able to fathom out how to operate the thing. There are some photos of it here.

Right - The Lighting Console Desk at the Lyric Theatre in 1976. Photo M.L.

Programme for 'The Gold Diggers' at the Lyric Theatre in 1926, which ran for 180 performances.The board at the Lyric also had a speed control which was like a large accelerator on a car. You had to push the pedal harder with your foot to create faster lighting changes. On matinees the electricity supply was always at a lower voltage than in the evenings so that you had to increase the speed to attain the same lighting fade times.

Left - A Programme for 'The Gold Diggers' at the Lyric Theatre in 1926, which ran for 180 performances.

The Console, situated at the back of the Dress Circle, in the bar conveniently, was connected to dimmer racks in the basement under the stage, and these consisted of huge racks of massive dimmers operated by a large motor and clutches. When doing a fast lighting cue you could sometimes hear the motor screaming under the stage from the Stalls. The tabs you can see in the picture above right were used to select which channels you wanted to move in the next lighting change, and groups of these could be selected at once by using stops which were to the right of the Console. When you pulled the stops out the tabs would jump down and the whole desk would thump and 'ding' like a pinball machine. It could take up to two minutes to set all the faders on the presets for the next cue so that rapid lighting changes were something of a challenge. Nowadays lighting is all done with computers and mostly at the touch of one button, and whilst this is far more efficient and versatile it certainly isn't anything like the adrenaline inducing operation of a Rank Strand Console Desk.

 

Programme for 'The Flashing Stream' at the Lyric Theatre in 1938 with Godfrey Tearle and Margaret Rawlings, which ran for 201 performances.The Lyric's basement areas used to include an area which stretched right up to the underneath of the pavement of Shaftesbury Avenue and housed Crew Rooms, offices and other areas, and above were shops, but the whole section was sold off by the London Residue Body when the GLC was abolished and before the Freehold was given to the Theatre's Trust. This has made furthur expansion of the Theatre impossible, indeed it now has less space than it used to. Luckily the stage area was not owned by the GLC or that might have gone too when it was abolished.

Right - Programme for 'The Flashing Stream' at the Lyric Theatre in 1938 with Godfrey Tearle and Margaret Rawlings, which ran for 201 performances.

The Lyric Theatre stage door and Windmill Theatre entrance in June 1977. The CZ Motorcycle parked by The Lyric Theatre hoardings belonged to the late Sir Ralph Richardson who was also an avid BMW Motorcycle owner, he was appearing at the Lyric at the time, in 'The Kingfisher'. The other bike was mine. - Photo M.L. 1977.The Lyric Theatre has been home to a great many successful productions in its time, far too many to list here, but recent successes include 'Blood Brothers' in 1983, which won several awards and, although it only ran for 6 months at the Lyric, went on to tour the country before a new production arrived in the West End at the Albery Theatre, where it was a great success, eventually transferring to the Phoenix where, remarkably, it ran from 1991 until 2012; 'Five Guys Named Mo' in 1990 which ran for five years; 'Cabaret' which was a very popular production in 2006, and 'Thriller Live' which opened in January 2009 and is still there in 2014.

Left - The Lyric Theatre stage door and Windmill Theatre entrance in June 1977. The CZ Motorcycle parked by The Lyric Theatre hoardings belonged to the late Sir Ralph Richardson who was also an avid BMW Motorcycle owner, he was appearing at the Lyric at the time, in 'The Kingfisher'. The other bike was mine. - Photo M.L. 1977.

The Lyric Theatre is currently run by Nimax Theatres whose own website can be found here.

 

The Lyric Theatre during the run of 'Cabaret' in October 2006. - Photo M.L.

Above - The Lyric Theatre during the run of 'Cabaret' in October 2006

 

The Apollo and Lyric Theatres in Shaftesbury Avenue looking towards Piccadilly Circus - Photo M.L. 2006 - Click for London's West End Theatres page.

Above - The Lyric and Apollo Theatres in Shaftesbury Avenue looking towards Piccadilly Circus - Photo M.L. 2006 - Click for London's West End Theatres page.

The Lyric, Apollo Gielgud, and Queens Theatres in Shaftesbury Avenue looking towards Cambridge Circus - Photo M.L. 2006 - Click for London's West End Theatres page.

Above - The Lyric, Apollo, Gielgud, and Queen's Theatres in Shaftesbury Avenue looking towards Cambridge Circus - Photo M.L. 2006 - Click for London's West End Theatres page.

 

London's West End Theatres

Adelphi Aldwych Ambassadors Apollo Apollo Victoria Arts Cambridge Criterion Dominion Drury Lane Duchess Duke Of Yorks Fortune Garrick Gielgud Harold Pinter Haymarket Her Majesty's London Coliseum London Palladium Lyceum Lyric New London Noel Coward / Albery Novello Old Vic Palace Peacock Phoenix Piccadilly Playhouse Prince Edward Prince of Wales Queen's Royal Opera House Savoy Shaftesbury St. Martin's Trafalgar Studios / Whitehall Vaudeville Victoria Palace Wyndham's