Designed by C J Phipps, the Lyric Theatre opened on 17th December 1888 and is the oldest surviving theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue. It was commissioned by Henry J. Leslie as an operetta house, the first production being a transfer of Dorothy from the Prince of Wales Theatre, starring Marie Tempest. The theatre has housed various types of theatre, including operetta and comedy, but has mainly seen plays and musicals take up residence in the 20th century. Notable productions from the early 20th century include The Chocolate Soldier (1910) by Oscar Straus, an operetta setting of George Bernard Shaw’s play Arms and the Man. 1911 saw Yvonne Arnaud take the stage in the musical The Girl in the Taxi. And a play about the life of the composer Franz Schubert proved very popular in 1922.
A 1933 redecoration of the building, now managed by Thomas Bostock, made way for a production of Royal Family by George S Kaufman with a roster of talent in its cast – Madge Titheradge, Marie Tempest and the up-and-coming Laurence Olivier, directed by Noël Coward. Over the next 50 years, the Lyric housed plays almost exclusively (Grab Me a Gondola in 1954 and Irma La Douce in 1958 being the obvious exceptions), but this changed in 1983 with the arrival of Willy Russell’s Blood Brothers which, although only running from April to October, won the Olivier Award for Best New Musical and returned to the West End in 1988 for a record-breaking run, eventually closing in 2013.
1990 saw the arrival of Five Guys Named Moe, produced by Cameron Mackintosh, which ran for five years, and was followed by a revival of another musical, Ain’t Misbehavin’, featuring the music of Fats Waller. Andrew Lloyd webber and Alan Ayckbourn’s musical By Jeeves transferred from the Duke of York’s Theatre in 1996, and Lloyd Webber’s Really Useful Group bought the theatre in 2000. The theatre then saw another healthy succession of almost solidly plays until the arrival of the theatre’s current tenant, Thriller Live, in 2009.
Nimax Theatres has owned the Lyric since 2005.
The auditorium has four levels – Stalls, Dress Circle, Upper Circle and Balcony. In the Stalls, the view of the stage is slightly obscured by the overhang of the Dress Circle in Rows Q and R. Of note, pillars support the Dress Circle and do hinder the view from certain seats at the back of the Stalls.
In the Dress Circle, the view is compromised by pillars in Row F and beyond, and the shallow rake of the Dress Circle does not guarantee great views for shorter patrons.
The Upper Circle offers rather shallow legroom and whilst the overhang of the Balcony above does not hinder the view, the low ceiling may make some people feel a little claustrophobic.
Of note, the Balcony is very high up and offers little legroom, but the seats, other than the designated restricted view seats at the side of the auditorium, do offer a good view of the stage.