Lyric Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue
Current Show: Get Up, Stand Up!
First preview: 1st October 2021
Booking until: 29th January 2023
Running time: 2h 30m no interval
Address: 29 Shaftesbury Ave, London W1D 7ES
Air Conditioning: No
Current Owner: Nimax Theatres
Box Office: +44 (0) 330 333 4812
Discounts, Day seats, Rush tickets & Lotteries
Box Office: +44 (0) 330 333 4812
Stage Door: +44 (0) 20 7494 5841
Many of London’s theatres are accessed from below or above street level. If you need to avoid steps, it is advisable to contact the theatre directly by telephone or email as they will be able to advise you on which seats are most easily accessed. Many have specially adapted wheelchair spaces.
Theatres may be able to provide additional facilities for customers with a hearing or visual impairment and some shows may also offer specific, adapted performances. It’s best to check with the venue directly via one of the following methods:
Access Bookings: Call +44 (0) 330 333 4815
Society of London Theatre also offers useful information for visitors with a disability or specific access need.
Nearest Tubes: Leicester Square or Piccadilly Circus
Buses: Number 14, 19, 22B, 38, 53, 88, 94, 159
Check out Transport for London’s excellent TFL Journey Planner
The Lyric Theatre takes up most of the front of a block which incorporates the Apollo and Windmill Theatres. The Lyric’s stage door and dressing rooms look out to Great Windmill Street. At one time, patrons entering the Lyric’s balcony entered via Archer Street at the back of the theatre, though this is no longer the case.
The theatre was built on four levels, with an original capacity of 1,306 – now reduced to approximately 960. When it first opened, the Lyric’s façade was described as ‘Renaissance in style, with a mixture of red brick and Portland stone’. The proscenium was brown and white alabaster, and the stalls were lined with walnut and sycamore panelling.
The theatre still retains many original features, including a 1767 house frontage on the Windmill Street side of the building. This was once the home of anatomist Sir William Hunter (brother of surgeon John Hunter). The house was demolished internally to make way for the theatre, but the façade remains, commemorated by a Blue Plaque beside the Windmill Theatre.
The Lyric Theatre is the oldest surviving theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue. It was part of West End Theatre’s 1880s ‘building boom’ with twelve theatres being built or rebuilt in a single decade. An earlier theatre, the London Pavilion which opened in 1885 could lay claim to being the first theatre on the newly built Shaftesbury Avenue. However, the London Pavilion only had side entrances and exits on Shaftesbury Avenue.
The first theatre fronting onto the street was the original Shaftesbury Theatre, which opened in October 1888 and was destroyed in The Blitz. The Lyric Theatre opened two months later, on Monday 17th December 1888 with a production of Dorothy. Profits from the show (which transferred from the Gaiety Theatre via the Prince of Wales Theatre) funded the building of the Lyric. Renowned theatre architect C J Phipps designed the Lyric for producer Henry Leslie, originally as venue for light opera.
Dorothy starred Marie Tempest in the title role. This was followed by another work by the same creative team called Doris. However, this failed to repeat the success of its predecessor and closed after 202 performances. Leslie’s third and final production here was The Red Hussar, by Henry Pottinger Stephens and Edward Solomon which ran for 175 performances.
In 1990, Horace Sedger took over as licensee, manager and lessee of the theatre from Leslie at a rent of £6,500 a year (over £850,000 today).
Sedger enjoyed early success with productions of Edmond Audran’s La Cigale, W S Gilbert & A Cellier’s The Mountebanks and Incognita, adapted from Lecocq’s Le Coeur et La Main. Other productions followed, including The Magic Opal, The Golden Web and Little Christopher Columbus. However, these productions enjoyed mixed fortunes and by 1994, Sedger was declared bankrupt.
In 1894, George Edwardes produced W S Gilbert and F Osmond Carr’s comic opera His Excellency. This ran for 162 performances but fell foul to an outbreak of influenza which saw audiences avoiding theatres.
The theatre was then taken over by William Greet. Greet’s first production was The Sign of the Cross by Wilson Barrett, running for 435 performances. This was followed by another Greet/Barrett collaboration, Daughters of Babylon.
In 1897/8, French actresses Gabrielle Réjane and Sarah Bernhardt played seasons here. The decade concluded with a return to musical performances, including Little Miss Nobody, L’Amour Mouille, andFloradora (which enjoyed great success both here and in New York).
In 1902, one of the era’s finest actors, Johnston Forbes-Robertson starred with his sister, Gertrude Elliott, in legendary seasons of Othello and Hamlet. After this, the Lyric returned to musical comedy with The Medal and the Maid and The Duchess of Dantzic. In 1904, Seymour Hicks’ musical The Talk of the Town starred Agnes Fraser, Walter Passmore and Henry Lytton. This was followed by The Blue Moon.
Between 1906 and 1910, actor/manager Lewis Waller took up residence at the Lyric Theatre in plays ranging from Shakespeare to Sheridan’s classic comedy of manners, The Rivals.
In 1910, The Chocolate Soldier opened. This musical version of George Bernard Shaw’s Arms and the Man was a great success, running for 500 performances. Although the public adored it, Shaw hated it, describing it as a “degradation of a decent comedy…a dirty farce”. The show was co-produced by Philip Michael-Faraday, who, the following year became the theatre’s sole director.
From 1911, Michael-Faraday presented Nightbirds, The Five Frankforters, The Girl in the Taxi, The Girl Who Didn’t and Mamzelle Tralala. In 1914, the theatre’s lease passed to Edward Engelbach. During the years which followed, the theatre focused on dramas such as On Trial, which told its story backwards, ending at the beginning. This was followed by Romance, a play by American dramatist Edward Sheldon which transferred after a long run at the Duke of York’s Theatre.
In 1918, the comedy Roxana opened to excellent reviews. This was followed by Romeo and Juliet, for which the reviews were terrible. Only one performance seems to have redeemed the production – Ellen Terry, in the role of Juliet’s Nurse.
The early 1920s saw a return to musical comedy at the Lyric Theatre, with productions such as Whirled into Happiness, Lilac Time, and The Street Singer. Based on a Schubert pastiche operetta Das Dreimäderlhaus, Lilac Time was adapted by Adrian Ross with music by George H Clutsam, and starred Courtice Pounds in the role of Franz Schubert. The remainder of the decade were dominated by straight plays. These included three plays by Avery Hopwood: The Best People, The Gold Diggers and The Garden of Eden.
Several of these plays featured the actress Tallulah Bankhead, one of the ‘bright young things’ of the 1920s. She would go onto appear in a further two plays at the Lyric to end the decade: Her Cardboard Lover and Let Us Be Gay.
The 1930s featured a succession of straight plays. These included Eugene O’Neill’s Strange Interlude (with a running time of six hours) and Dodie Smith’s Autumn Crocus (featuring a young Jessica Tandy). Next followed J B Priestley’s Dangerous Corner, Rose Franken’s Another Language and Rachel Crothers’ When Ladies Meet.
Following a renovation of the theatre in 1933 by new proprietor Thomas Bostock, Robert E Sherwood’s Reunion in Vienna starred Lynn Fontanne with husband Alfred Lunt. Subsequent productions included Sidney Kingsley’s Men in White and a Noël Coward-produced Theatre Royal starring Laurence Olivier and Marie Tempest (almost 50 years after her first performance here).
In 1935, Sherwood’s Tovarich (based on Jacques Deval’s original French play), ran for 414 performances. The following year, Priestley’s Bees on the Boatdeck united Ralph Richardson and Olivier Oliver, but despite this, the show was relatively unsuccessful. Charles the King followed in 1936, receiving a far better reception. Later the same year, King Edward VIII lifted a long-standing ban on the portrayal of Queen Victoria on stage; this allowed the first public performance of Laurence Housman’s play, Victoria Regina. The show ran for 337 performances.
With war approaching, the end of the 1930s saw a transfer of Broadway play Amphitryon 38, and a run of Charles Morgan’s The Flashing Stream.
The war years were sparse for the Lyric Theatre. Nonetheless, some productions did go ahead, including The Nutmeg Tree starring Yvonne Arnaud. In 1943, theatrical impresario Prince Littler took control of the Lyric, presenting Terence Rattigan’s Love in Idleness the following year.
After WWII, the Lyric enjoyed a renaissance, with long runs including another Rattigan play, The Winslow Boy. In 1949, an 18th Century comedy by Irish playwright George Farquar, The Beaux’ Stratagem was revived, starring John Clements and Kay Hammond.
In the 1950s, the Lyric Theatre continued to enjoy success, with plays including Nancy Mitford’s comedy The Little Hut, which ran for several years. Soon after this, T S Eliot’s The Confidential Clerk transferred from the Edinburgh Festival. In the mid-1950s, there were also good runs for Hippo Dancing, My Three Angels and Noël Coward’s romantic comedy, South Sea Bubble, starring Vivien Leigh.
From December 1956, Grab Me a Gondola starred Denis Quilley, running for 673 performances. This was followed by Irma La Douce starring Keith Michell, which opened in July 1958 and ran for an impressive 1,512 performances.
After Irma La Douce closed in 1962, several plays opened and closed in quick succession. Then, success returned with The Wings of the Dove, starring Wendy Hiller and Susannah York, which later transferred to the Theatre Royal, Haymarket.
The next long-running sixties show was Robert and Elizabeth. This operetta-style musical based upon the relationship of poets Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett. The show was a major hit, starring Keith Michell and June Bronhill and running from October 1964 to January 1967.
The 1960s ended with productions of Oh, Clarence, based on P G Wodehouse’s Blandings stories, and Neil Simon’s Plaza Suite.
The 1970s began with Peter Shaffer play The Battle of Shrivings. Despite a cast including Martin Shaw and John Gielgud (as a celibate vegetarian philosopher), the play was savaged by critics, running for just a month. It was followed by Alan Ayckbourn’s How the Other Half Loves, which fared rather better, running for two years. In 1972, Deborah Kerr appeared in an adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s The Day After the Fair, which ran for seven months before transferring across the Atlantic.
Today, theatre lighting is generally computer programmed and controlled at the flick of a switch, but back in the 1970s, the Lyric still used a ‘Rank Strand Colsole Desk’. This resembled an organ, with pedals and tabs operating groups of lights. The Lyric’s desk also had a speed control, rather like a car accelerator, to control lighting fades. This took skill during matinees, when mains electricity came in at a lower voltage and the lighting engineer had to pedal harder to achieve the same effect!
In 1973, Alex Guinness appeared as the lecherous Dr Wicksteed in Alan Bennett’s comedy Habeas Corpus, with Robert Hardy taking over the role in 1974. This was followed by a transfer from the Everyman Theatre, Liverpool, of Willy Russell’s John, Paul, George, Ringo…and Bert. This Beatles-inspired musical starred Antony Sher, Trevor Eve and Barbara Dickson.
1975 saw the first major London production of Pinter’s The Birthday Party since its ignominious premiere in 1958. This was followed by a season of comedies, directed by Lindsay Anderson. In 1977, Anderson directed Celia Johnson and Ralph Richardson in William Douglas-Home’s comedy The Kingfisher.
In 1978, Joan Plowright and Patricia Hayes starred in Franco Zeffirelli’s production of Eduardo De Filioppo’s Filumena. The decade’s final performances included Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronyn’s two-hander, The Gin Game by Donald Coburn.
The eighties began with Middle Aged Spread, reuniting The Good Life’s Richard Briers and Paul Eddington, winning the Laurence Olivier Award for comedy of the year. The play transferred to the Apollo Theatre, making way for Alan Ayckbourn’s farce, Taking Steps.
In August 1981, three rarely performed Noël Coward plays from Tonight at 8.30 arrived, before in 1982, Briers returned to the Lyric, this time appearing alongside Peter Egan in Shaw’s Arms and the Man. This was succeeded by a new play, Summit Conference starring Glenda Jackson and Georgina Hale.
In 1983, the Lyric became the first London home of a musical which would later become one of the West End’s longest running shows, Blood Brothers. The show initially ran here for a little over six months, with Barbara Dickson in the lead role of Mrs Johnstone. The show was then revived in a new production in 1988 at the Albery Theatre (now the Noël Coward Theatre) and subsequently the Phoenix Theatre, running for over 24 years.
After Blood Brothers Initial West End run ended, the Lyric reverted to straight drama, with Hugh Whitemore’s espionage inspired Pack of Lies starring real-life husband and wife Judi Dench and Michael Williams. Pack of Lies ran for almost a year. It was followed by a revival of Joe Orton’s Loot. Loot made headline news when its star, Leonard Rossiter died in his dressing room mid-performance.
1985 saw a brief return to musical theatre with Lerner and Loewe’s Gigi, adapted from the motion picture. This was followed by productions of Ayckbourn’s A Chorus of Disapproval and Willy Russell’s comedy One for the Road. Between 1988 and 89, Brian Rix presented and starred in a revival of Dry Rot, a Whitehall Farce which had originally run in the West End some 30 years previously at the Whitehall Theatre (now the Trafalgar Theatre).
The 1990s began with Burn This starring John Malkovich. Then, Five Guys Named Moe transferred from the Theatre Royal Stratford East, running for several years before transferring to the Albery (Noël Coward Theatre).
During the run of Five Guys Named Moe, a 1994 restoration project saw the theatre’s façade completely restored. This was followed in 1995 by Murray Horwitz and Richard Maltby Jr musical revue, Ain’t Misbehavin’.
The 90s continued with Leo McKern in Hobson’s Choice, Australian import Tap Dogs, and Andrew Lloyd Webber and Alan Ayckbourn’s P G Wodehouse inspired musical By Jeeves. Then, in 1997, Siân Phillips starred as Marlene Dietrich in a career defining performance of Pam Gems’ biographical Marlene.
Three transfers followed: an RSC production of Cyrano de Bergerac starring Antony Sher, the National Theatre’s production of Patrick Marber’s Closer, and Manchester Royal Exchange’s Animal Crackers.
The 20th century closed with Alan Ayckbourn’s Comic Potential, ushering in a new millennium for the Lyric Theatre.
In 2000, the Lyric was bought by Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Really Useful Group. Productions in this new era included Fanny Burney’s satirical A Busy Day starring Stephanie Beacham and a stage version of Noël Coward’s 1945 film Brief Encounter, starring Jenny Seagrove and Christopher Cazenove. These were followed by Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night starring Jessica Lange, Coward’s Semi-Monde, Barbara Cook Sings Mostly Sondheim and Brendan Fraser in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.
Daisy Pulls it Off, a raucous schoolgirl comedy ran for three months in 2002, before Ian McKellen and Frances de la Tour starred together in Strindberg’s The Dance of Death.
A 2005 production of Tennessee Williams’ Night of the Iguana brought Woody Harrelson to the London stage. The theatre changed hands once again in this year, with Andrew Lloyd Webber transferring the lease of the theatre to Nica Burns and Max Weitzenhoffer’s Nimax Theatres.
In 2006, a new play Smaller by Carmel Morgan united Dawn French and Alison Moyet enjoyed a short run. This was followed by Rufus Norris’s revival of Kander & Ebb’s Cabaret, with James Dreyfus as Emcee and Anna Maxwell Martin as Sally Bowles. Cabaret played for nearly two years, with Julian Clary and Alistair McGowan taking over from Dreyfus later in the run.
In January 2009, Thriller Live! opened. The show received unfavourable reviews, but following Michael Jackson’s death on 25th June, the theatre became something of a shrine for legions of Jackson’s fans. Ticket sales soared, and Thriller Live! would go on to become the longest running show in the history of the Lyric Theatre, finally closing in March 2020 after 11 years.
The Covid-19 pandemic caused the closure of the theatre for much of 2020, but through the determination of Nica Burns, on 5th December 2020, the Lyric Theatre reopened with socially distanced performances of the musical Six. Sadly, further pandemic restrictions forced the theatre to close again just ten days later.
Six finally reopened on 21st May 2021, before moving to the Vaudeville Theatre to make way for the opening of Get Up, Stand Up! The Bob Marley Musical.
Unusually, the Lyric Theatre can still use water to operate its iron (the safety curtain which separates the auditorium and stage). This is a slow, labour intensive job, so today an electric pump is usually used instead.
Five hydraulic bridges in the stage (with a combined weight of 11 tons) were eventually replaced with a large revolve. This is still operable today, either by an ancient electrical rectifier or by hand.
The theatre’s basement once housed crew rooms and offices before this was sold off by the London Residuary Body following the abolition of the GLC. Fortunately, the stage area was not owned by the GLC, and the freehold passed to The Theatres Trust, along with freeholds for the Garrick Theatre and Lyceum Theatre. Income from these three theatres now funds much of the essential work of the Theatres Trust.
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Disclaimer: We take care to provide accurate information. Records prior to internet age can be difficult to verify so we only list productions back as far as the year 2000, however we hold some records prior to this date offline. If you would like more information, or are aware of any errors, please contact us here. “One night only” productions and private theatre hires are not listed.
Arthur Lloyd’s Theatre Website offers an encyclopaedic insight into the history of the West End’s theatres.
Theatricalia is a database of past & future theatre productions.
Thisistheatre also offers interesting insights into the history of London’s theatres.
The Theatres Trust offers information and support for our nation’s theatres.