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David Garrick - (1717-1779)

David GarrickAlthough born in Hereford, Garrick's family home was Lichfield and his house stood on the site of the old library in Bird Street. (The house was pulled down in the 19th century and a plaque now marks the site).

Garrick's talents as a mimic were recognised early and he made his stage debut in the Bishop's Palace in the Close in Farquhar's comedy 'The Recruiting Officer'. He studied for a time at Edial Hall, the school run by Samuel Johnson on the Burntwood Road, and travelled to London with Johnson in 1737. He made his London debut in Colley Cibber's adaption of Shakespeare's 'Richard III'. It was an overnight sensation, Garrick becoming the most celebrated actor of his day. In 1749 he became co-manager of Drury Lane Theatre, his friend Johnson writing a prologue for his opening night.

As a manager Garrick introduced many much-needed reforms to his theatre, including improved lighting and clearing his stage of the richer members of the audience.

He also introduced his audiences to the lesser-known plays of the previous century, albeit often in altered versions.

He was also a dramatist of some distinction, writing some fine farces and comedies. As an actor he was pre-eminent in comedy and tragedy, classical and contemporary plays. To his audiences, used to the more formal acting of earlier times, Garrick's acting seemed astonishingly realistic. His playing of Shakespeare contributed to the developing bardolatory of the 18th century.

Off stage Garrick was a generous, warm-hearted friend. Though not an intellectual, he had close friends in artistic circles and amongst the more aristocratic classes. He became a rich man and collected paintings and rare early editions of plays, many of which are now in the British Library.

He retired from the theatre in 1776, but died only three years later, worn out by an exhausting career as actor-manager. He was buried in Westminster Abbey.
 

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