For our 125th birthday we asked previous Lyric staff, supporters, artists and friends to share their Lyric memory.
Neil Bartlett and Simon Mellor – who ran the Lyric together as Artistic Director and Chief Executive from 1994-2005
‘When we arrived at the Lyric in 1994 it wasn’t the shiny , happy landmark that welcomes you to Hammersmith today. The entrance was a pokey little staircase hidden away on King Street; the only rehearsal room was in a windowless office block – and years of funding cuts had left the building only eight weeks away from bankruptcy. What made us take the job ? Simple ; that beautiful, magical auditorium – the theatre of your dreams, and still the most inspiring room either of us have ever made work in. Ten years later, we passed the building on transformed and thriving. Our artistic policy was simple ; make beautiful shows, with brilliant people – and keep the tickets cheap. Moments that we especially remember would include a young Martin Freeman, the best Buttons ever ,improvising to save his life in front of roaring 11am Christmas house composed entirely of local schoolkids ; Anita Dobson in a Marivaux play that we put on with a production budget of £125, conjuring a whole world out of a circle of sand and a borrowed fur coat ; Harold Pinter in the bar ; Richard Briers puffing on a roll-up behind the curtain just seconds before it went up on his matchlessly real and touching Scrooge; Rae Smith’s haunting designs for “Oliver Twist” , with Mickey Feast as a truly terrifying Fagin ; Victoria Wood doing a benefit evening for us and leaving the audience literally breathless with laughter. The single best thing we did during our tenure ? Easy ; we made the first night of every show that we produced in-house free for local residents – throwing the doors wide open, and making people who’d never even heard of the place wonder what that huge long queue was for on the day when the tickets became available for a new season…’
Natasha Barnes – cast of Spring Awakening – 2009
‘The Lyric was my first professional theatre. I was so proud of my performers lanyard, of my dressing room space and my daily commute to the building. I remember Spring Awakening as a haze of meeting people. The team front of house and the technical staff behind seemed to buzz with as much excitement as our young company. I want to thank you Lyric, for the gift of the stage and the audiences but also for exiting the theatre straight into the foyer – often into a frenzy of adolescent and adult excitement alike – it was a magical time I have yet to re-capture since.’
Paule Constable – Lighting Designer and previous Artistic Associate
‘My favourite Lyric memory? I have so many. It’s the building – there and the Young Vic – where I’ve grown up and worked form the beginning of my career all the way through…..
I always loved the first night free previews. I remember sitting down to watch The Dispute. A family came in to sit next to me. As they sat down they opened the bucket of fried chicken they had brought with them – passed it down the row to share – with each other and then with me. I think Marivaux would have been shocked!
Then the first preview of Blasted. Its always an amazing moment because you often have an audience who have very few preconceptions about what they are about to see. Blasted was truly shocking when it was first performed but now it has lost its teeth (none of its relevance or beauty) because we all know that it is “that” play. But this audience didn’t. I sat in a room full of people who experienced both the extreme horror and the beauty of that play as if it were new. It was one of those moments when you could feel the air in the room change. It was truly thrilling and reminded you what theatre can do….
And then that space full of kids watching Richard Briars play Scrooge and fall about laughing….
It’s a proper playhouse – it can make you laugh and cry – you can be comic and tragic and everything in between. It is playful and dark. The perfect space in so many ways…..
It’s the theatre that I think of as my home.’
Stephanie Dawes – Duty Manager: 1983 – present
‘I joined the Lyric Front of House team as a Head Usher in February 1983, becoming a Duty Manager a few years later. It’s been such a privilege and the Lyric ‘family’ has always been key as the theatre has moved forward with the times and each new vision has been achieved. There have been fantastic productions, both in the Main House and the Studio – really far too many to single out – each with its own challenges which we have met, mainly involving latecomers, cameras and phones, heat, cold and the odd pint dropped from the Circle! Memorable productions for me include Crime and Punishment directed by Yuri Lyubimov, The House of Bernarda Alba directed by Nuria Espert, A Madhouse in Goa directed by Robert Allan Ackerman and David Freeman’s production of Morte D’Arthur, performed over two nights with half of each evening in St Paul’s Church on the Broadway where we had to be careful not to lose audience members in transit in the subways! Abbacadabra was a special Christmas show with the writers (who went on to write Les Mis) always telling us: “If you believe in magic……” as they walked past.’
Janet Ellis – Lyric Supporter
‘Seeing a show at the Lyric? You expect it’ll be entertaining and inventive. You know it’ll be provocative. You suspect it’ll be memorable. You hope it’ll be special. Once in a while, a show is all this and more. Shock-Headed Peter not only reached across the footlights and broke the fourth wall, it climbed into your head, dazzled you and haunted your dreams. The look of it! The camp revelry! The sounds- the singing and the music! It was one of those productions that made you want to see it again, straight away. It reminded you of the sheer joy of live theatre. And it was all on the best, most generous, most distinctive stage in London. Happy Birthday, Lyric Theatre Hammersmith. Keep doing what you do (even if it’s sometimes scary )!’
David Farr – Artistic Director: 2005 – 2008
‘The Lyric for me was about two things. First it was about working together. The whole spirit of the place was collaboration. We invited companies like Vesturport, Kneehigh, Filter, Frantic Assembly, Gecko, Vanishing Point, and individuals like Lemn Sissay, Mark Ravenhill, Sophie Woolley, Lisa Hammond. I wanted the feeling of a big creative brew, with people of all different types bouncing off each other, competing with each other, sharing with each other. Kate and Louise at Fuel were my great partners in this. The level of activity was breathless.
Second it was about young people. My incredible Executive Director, Jessica Hepburn, now officially a legend, drove a remarkable campaign to bring art and young people in the community into direct contact with work, not just through watching plays but doing workshops, exploring with practitioners and even being in main-stage plays. I’m so proud of our alumni from that energy, from poets Dean Atta and Deanna Rodger to actor and writer Kalungi Ssebandeke and so many more. No theatre brought young people that close to the process of making work. It was and remains groundbreaking.
Excellence was always the goal but process was everything. Bringing people together into a celebration of theatre, life, community. Viva The Lyric!’
Jane Fletcher – Lyric Supporter
‘Nights at the Circus …..January 2006. MY FAVOURITE ! Kneehigh’s amazing dark fantastical stage version of Angela Carters novel reshaped by young talents of Emma Rice and Tom Morris. Fevvers (Natalia Tena now Harry Potter and Game of thrones) is the fiery fierce vulgar half bird circus aerialist and Gisli Orn Gardarsson (Vesturport ) the sceptical reporter out to prove her a fake who becomes infatuated with her. They swing through the air and over the audience in rapturous aerial displays ..absolutely 5*****’
Jessica Hepburn – Executive Director: 2005 – 2015
I can’t believe you’re 125, you always seem so young to me! Although I’m no longer with you, I still think about you most days – that’s what fourteen years of memories does. I hope you’re keeping tidy (you know how important that is to me) and that you’re continuing to be brave (because that’s when you’re at your best).
It was a privilege to look after you for a little while and although I won’t be around to celebrate your 250th birthday, the most important thing is that you are – with a new generation of artists and audiences who will love you as much as we all do today. So keep exercising and eating plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables (Vive la Plattergate for those who remember!). Happy birthday, my dear dear friend.
Sean Holmes – Artistic Director: 2009 – 2018
‘There’s a particular place in the Lyric which is a confluence of routes. A red door leading to the stage , some steps down to a corridor of dressing rooms, a door to a storeroom and a little lobby that leads to more steps down to Wardrobe . It’s nondescript , grey, scuffed. Marked by use. Functional. No one notices it. Or thinks about it. It’s a place of passing. A conduit to other more important, more used locations. Now imagine it filled with people , pressed together. Around twenty in all. Some are in military uniform , soaked in sweat and daubed with fake blood, hair damp, faces shining. Others are in ‘blacks’ with headphones on . Still more of us are dressed up – best jeans or favourite shirts . Everyone is hugging , congratulating , thanking. The non actors amongst us trying to express the importance of this moment through the strength of our hugs whilst at the same time trying to avoid getting blood on our nice clothes. Slowly the hugs and thanks and congratulations subside and a silence descends. It gets more silent. An unusual, unfamiliar silence. A silence I suppose of collective realisation. That it’s over. When we leave this weird, little , accidental space two years of collective effort and endeavour will be over. It’s the sound of twenty people realising the thing they knew was going to occur is now about to actually happen. And that that is quite a thing to realise. That’s why it’s a dense ,complex, weird, unfamiliar silence . Because its been a dense, complex, weird and unfamiliar two years. It goes on for a long time this deepening silence and then I say something like “this is getting strange now , it’s all over , let’s go “ and the group disperses to the more familiar routine of changing or clearing up or going to the bar.
This moment ,that’s seared in my memory , came at the end of the last weekend of the Secret Theatre experiment at the Lyric. Over one weekend we staged all seven of the shows we had made. A suitably mad marathon to conclude something only the Lyric could have pulled off.’
Howard Meadan – Theatre Manager: 1989 – 2001
‘Having spent the best part of 12 years at the theatre I have many treasured memories of my time there: the international work that Peter James programmed was always exciting and sometimes challenging; David Freeman’s production of Morte D’Arthur was a particularly interesting project performed in four parts over two evenings (or a full day) and including the requirement for the audience to move between the theatre and St Paul’s Church, where it was staged in promenade, at each performance – quite a challenge for the Front of House staff; the successful Lyric Alive campaign that we ran to keep the theatre open towards the end of Peter James’ tenure was memorable as was a short repertory season of plays in The Studio curated by Anne Lambton which attracted a steady stream of VIP guests (obviously she had a pretty sexy address book) including Mick Jagger, Jerry Hall, Liza Minnelli, Michael Winner and Jenny Seagrove et al; the refurbishment of the auditorium and FOH areas for which I was in-house project manager; working with Vanessa Redgrave on A Madhouse In Goa – the first Lyric show after I arrived in 1989; Susie Blake repainting her dressing room when she appeared with Sheila Hancock in ‘Prin’ directed by Richard Wilson; getting a phone call from the Box Office asking if I could show Dustin Hoffman the seats he had just booked in the Dress Circle for Scottish National Opera’s production of ‘Hansel and Gretel’ (he left at the interval); several visits by Princess Margaret (always late); organising interval drinks for Cher when she came to see Rupert Everett in Philip Prowse’s ‘The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore’- I could go on…’
Kevin McGrath – Lyric Trustee and Chair: 2004 – 2015
‘I spent 11 years as a Board Trustee at the Lyric including the last four as Chair and have many, many happy memories of my time. The shows which stand our include Metamorphosis, Spring Awakening, Bugsy Malone, Noises Off, Ghost Stories, and the reinvention of the traditional Panto.
I always took great pride and pleasure with the Lyrics work with young people and its outreach programme. The biggest achievement during my period was the building of the fantastic Reubens extension which has enabled Lyric to provide professional quality space for even more work with young people whilst also providing a safe space for them to meet and relax. In addition the extension provided the Lyric Theatre with modern accommodation suitable for the 21th century. The Lyric Hammersmith is a very special place and I am honoured to be part of its history. Happy 125th Birthday.’
Wolfgang Stange – Artistic Director AMICI
‘In 1999 AMICI performed their first production in the main theatre at the Lyric Theatre. This was on the invitation of the then director Simon Mellor. Pieces 2, in collaboration with the New London Orchestra was premiered in the autumn of 1999. In 2000 the Jazz singer Barb Jungr joined us along with the New London Orchestra for 20/20. AMICI then became a resident Company and has enjoyed a supportive relationship for all its 21 years at the Lyric. Thank you Lyric and Happy 125th Birthday. We are proud to have been part of this amazing theatre for all those years. Happy birthday Lyric!’