For four days last week, I was working in a school in Staines near Heathrow Airport. To get there from Wimbledon I had to drive past David Garrick’s Villa and his temple to Shakespeare, at Hampton on The Thames.
David Garrick was an 18th century actor, playwright and owner of Drury Lane Theatre. He was innovative, and the forerunner of a new acting style. He was regarded as the greatest actor of his time and arguably is one of the great actors of all time. He had a profound interest in Shakespeare. It is easy to see connections between David Garrick and his career and the career and driven personality of Dickens. Perhaps they are both a mirror in which we can see something of ourselves.
David Garrick was the second son of Peter and Arabella Garrick. He was born at The Angel Inn in Hereford on the 19th February 1717. For a while he was the pupil of Samuel Johnson at the little school at Edial near Lichfield. In 1773 Garrick and Johnson went to London together both with little money to support them. Garrick at first worked as a salesman in his family’s wine firm. However he turned to playwriting and acting. He write a version of, “Lethe,” that was used by Henry Giffard’s company at Drury Lane. He then joined Giffard’s company and worked at the theatre in Tankard street in Ipswich. At first Garrick took the stage name of Lyddall. On the 19th October 1741 he played Richard III at Goodman’s Fields Theatre in East London. He was an overnight sensation.
His acting style was new and innovative. He began a more naturalistic style. Rather than use the exaggerated bombastic style that was popular. On 28th November that year he got rid of his stage name and began to use his real name. His real name appeared on the posters advertising, “The Orphan,” in which he played the character, Chamont.. As a sign of his meteoric rise to fame within two months William Pitt decalerd that the 22 year old Garrick was the best actor the British stage had ever produced. Garrick became the dominant force in British theatre from then on.
In 1747 with a new partner, James Lacey he took over the management of Drury Lane Theatre. For 29 years he directed repertory company in Europe. He developed new rehearsal techniques and discipline. His ideas included analysing characters, restoring the original texts of Shakespeare. Much of Shakespeare’s plays in the 18th century had been written in a bombastic and alliterative style. He didn’t always keep to Shakespeare’s original texts himself. He did tend to leave out bits and add bits to emphasise the character he was playing. Garrick was one of the leading playwrights of his day and wrote The Clandestine Marriage, Cymon, The Lying Valet and The Guardian. Garricks influence became the yardstick by which all other acting and drama was measured throughout Europe.
In 1749 Garrick married the Viennese dancer, Eva Maria Vegel. They had no children and she outlived him by 43 years.They were so famous the crowned heads of Europe, the nobility and the leading figures of the London literary, art and social circles came to visit him.He owned residences at No 27 Southampton Street in Covent garden, in the Sdelphi, and his villa at Hampton on The Thames.You can imagine the elite of Europe coming to Hampton to visit garrick at his Thameside retreat, walking by The Thames, visiting his temple to Shakespeare and rowing out to the aits (river islands) Garrick owned along his stretch of the river to have sylvan parties in a beautiful natural surround.
Garrick gave up Drury Lane and made his last performance at Drury Lane during a series of final performances in June 1776. He died in his house in the Adelphi on 20 th January 1779. He was buried at Poets Corner, Westminster Abbey.
Gentle reader: This is the first of two articles about David Garrick by Tony Grant. The second will concentrate on the actor’s beautiful house and temple on the Thames.
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