Finding pride of place on Charing Cross Road in London, the Garrick Theatre has stood on its site since 1889, joining a wealth of other West End theatres to emerge in the 19th century. Since that time it has been the home to a great deal of different shows, whilst also going through redevelopments and renovations, allowing it to continue to flourish in the modern day. Like other West End venues it is also a Grade II* listed structure and this is because it is a location of great historical importance, having welcomed a great deal of well known performers and directors to its stage in its 120-plus year history.
The venue was designed by Walter Emden, with C J Phipps also contributing to its overall look. Emden was a prolific designer of British theatres and in London he also contributed the Royal Court Theatre, the Duke of York’s Theatre and the Palace Theatre, amongst others. Meanwhile, Phipps had been behind a wealth of other venues during his time, from the Savoy Theatre to Her Majesty’s Theatre. So both men had contributed a lot to the London theatre scene and it demonstrates the community of ideas that surrounds the history of these cultural landmarks.
W S Gilbert was the financer of the project, best known as one half of Gilbert and Sullivan, with David Garrick the namesake and over the last century the Garrick Theatre has seen various different managers and companies pass through its doors. The theatre has also had its near misses with demolition, particularly in the 1930s when a Super Cinema was conceived and in the 1960s when a redevelopment of Covent Garden put many West End theatres in the spotlight. Thanks to its subsequent listing as a Grade II* structure this will never happen again, but audiences came very close to losing a very important structure.
But it battled through and the Garrick continues to flourish as the location in which a wide variety of shows regularly pass through its doors. In recent years a returning production of “The Gruffalo” has kept younger audiences happy, whilst plays and musical featuring a wide range of well known actors have appeared onstage. Even comedians regularly appear, with Ross Noble amongst those who have brought their hit solo shows to the venue.
The first show to make its way to the stage of the Garrick Theatre was A W Pinero’s “The Profligate”, which was a celebrated and much-talked-about English play that focused on a secret that threatens to upset the present and the future of the main character. Pinero was a celebrated playwright himself and during his time put together a great deal of work, with other examples that include “The Magistrate”, “The Schoolmistress” and “Sweet Lavender”, amongst others. Years later, his play “The Notorious Mrs Ebbsmith” also appeared at the Garrick.
But before the latter, the Garrick Theatre welcomed “A Pair of Spectacles” by Sydney Grundy, an English dramatist whose most famous pieces of works were adaptations from the continent. John Hare starred in the production and became one of the earliest big names to appear at the venue, ahead of a century that would welcome a wide range of stand-out stars.
In the twentieth century, for examples, Laurence Olivier – one of the most celebrated English actors of all time – worked at the Garrick Theatre where he directed Jack Buchanan in a production of “Born Yesterday”. The 1947 show was written by the American Garson Kanin and concerns a wealthy tycoon whose mistress Billie is ignorant to the way of his company, which in turn threatens to compromise his dealings. As a journalist educates Billie to bring her up to speed, she realises that her boyfriend is corrupt and attempts to scupper one of his dodgy doings.
Over the next few decades the Garrick continued to host some top names. For example in 1962 Sheila Hancock appeared in “Rattle of a Simple Man”, a show that would also be adapted into a 1964 movie. It concerns a Manchester cotton worker who spends time with a prostitute when he travels to London to watch a football match.
Over the last ten years the Garrick Theatre has maintained its place in the spotlight with shows such as “Unrealtime” by Ross Noble (which features on his DVD of the same name), “Politics” by Ricky Gervais and plays such as “The Little Dog Laughed” and “When We Are Married”. In addition to the mentioned comedians, this has meant that performers such as Edward Fox, Ralf Little, Christian Slater, Gemma Arterton and Maureen Lipman have been amongst those to appear at the Garrick Theatre during this time.
Further Facts about the Garrick Theatre
• In no particular order, the famous names to appear at the venue include John Hare, Jack Buchanan, Sheila Hancock, Ross Noble, Ricky Gervais, Derren Brown, Edward Fox, Ralf Little, Christian Slater, Tamsin Greig, Gemma Arterton, David Essex, Billie Piper, Alex Kingston, Ian McKellen, Seymour Hicks and Maureen Lipman, amongst others.
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