Good Venue Guide: 33 - The Lyric Hammersmith, W6

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Date of birth: 1895.

Brief history: Lillie Langtry cut the red tape on the Lyric, originally in Beaton Road, and the occasion was marked by a celebratory mixed bill of a specially commissioned overture, drama and genteel melodrama. The height of its success as a fashionable venue came under the management of theatre impresario Nigel Playfair in the 1920s, when West End folk would arrive in droves of black cabs. Then came a period in the doldrums: the rising popularity of cinema did its audience numbers no favours, and neither did the Second World War. In the 1950s it put on revues; it was rebuilt around the corner in 1979, and in the 1980s, it was a subsidised theatre of not much note. In 1994, however, Neil Bartlett arrived with his prodigious talent, inspired experimental schemes, and address book of amazing international theatrical contacts - and everything changed.

The building: there was, rumour has it, a theatre already on the Beaton Road site. But those crazy Victorians decided it would be a really good idea to remove the back wall to allow fire-engines to enter the stage during a Christmas show. Not surprisingly, the roof fell in, and Francis Matcham was called upon to rebuild the Lyric. He created a vision of ornate, swirling, glittering plasterwork. When the theatre was relocated, they took the plasterwork and the red plush seats with them.

Identity: these days, the people's theatre. On Monday nights, all tickets are pounds 5; first nights of productions are free to anyone living or working in the borough. Once a year there's an extravaganza by local young people.

Getting there: Hammersmith tube, then what ought to be a short walk through London's most pedestrian-unfriendly area (negotiating the subways, flyovers and street-level crossings may take longer than you think).

Recommended seats: the front circle or stalls if you're feeling flush; otherwise the back stalls.

Where to meet: the bar in the foyer.

Cost of a glass of wine: pounds 2.10.

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