The Garrick Theatre takes its name from the actor David Garrick, and was commissioned by W. S. Gilbert of Gilbert and Sullivan fame. It opened in 1889 with a design by Walter Emden, though C. J. Phipps acted as consultant for the rather difficult build when an underground river was uncovered underneath the site. Quite a small house, it originally consisted of four levels accommodating 800 seats, but with the closure of the Gallery the capacity has been reduced to 718.
The first play to perform at the Garrick was The Profilgate by Arthur Wing Pinero who saw another one of his works, The Notorious Mrs. Ebbsmith premiere at the same theatre in 1895. J.M. Barrie’s play The Wedding Guest began a series of successes for the theatre, which included Rutland Barrington’s “fairy play”, Water Babies, in 1902. Continuing the theme of fairies, W. S. Gilbert premiered his new piece Harlequin and the Fairy’s Dilemma in 1904, the only show of his to play at the theatre he had commissioned.
The theatre began an association with comedy in 1982 with the opening of the farce No Sex Please, We’re British, which settled in for a four year run through 1986, when the theatre was purchased by Stoll Moss Theatres and refurbished, with the gold-leaf features of the auditorium being extensively restored by designer Carl Toms. This was the longest-running show at the Garrick until J. B. Priestley’s An Inspector Calls transferred from the Aldwych Theatre in 1995 and resided for 6 years. During its residency the front façade of the theatre was renovated.
In recent years a number of musicals have played here, including A Little Night Music (2009), Chicago (2011) and The Scottsboro Boys (2014). In 2015, Kenneth Branagh took up residency at the Garrick for a year-long season of plays with his own theatre company, debuting with The Winter’s Tale starring Judi Dench.
Nimax Theatres has owned the Garrick since 2005.
The auditorium has three levels – Stalls, Dress Circle and Grand Circle. In the Stalls, the view of the top of the stage is slightly obscured by the overhang of the Dress Circle from Row N onwards. The rake of the seats doesn't really become apparent until Row G, and this has been known to cause a few sightline issues for the front rows up to Row E in productions that have utilised a higher stage.
In the Dress Circle, the view of the stage is not obscured by the overhang of the Upper Circle, but the ceiling does feel a bit low for those in the last row. The seats are designed in a horseshoe shape around the theatre and other than those seats at the extreme sides (which are priced lower), the Dress Circle offers good sightlines. The only thing to be aware of is that the legroom is not as good as in the stalls.
The legroom in the Grand Circle is disappointing, worst in the centre of the rows.Views can be obstructed by the safety rail along the front of the Grand Circle. But the prices do reflect these shortcomings.