Garrick v. Dr Johnson


Who actually wrote Shakespeare's plays? No, this isn't another claim that it might have been Marlowe or the Earl of Oxford – but who put together the plays that were published during and after his lifetime? It is thought that the plays that ended up compiled in the First Folio editions looked very different from the ones Shakespeare had written several decades earlier, adapted, cut, edited, and generally mucked about by directors and actors over the years.


The great Dr Johnson wanted to get back to the originals as far as he could in his own edition of the collected works, which eventually saw the light of day in 1765. But his friend and former pupil David Garrick took a much more liberal attitude to the texts he performed on the London stage, and the two argued endlessly about the issue. Or they did in Playing to the Crowd, a learned and stylish hour-long play that captivated a club audience in the Morning Room on a Monday evening in September, with the actors using the room's features to best advantage.


On Dr Johnson's side was Charlotte Lennox, played by Katherine Tozer, who also wrote the play for the Palimpsest theatre company.


"Without Actors there would be no Shakespeare" says Garrick, beautifully played by Nick Barber as a Jack the Lad in a striking scarlet suit.


"Without Shakespeare there would be no actors," retorts Mrs Lennox.


Garrick has no qualms about rewriting Shakespeare when it suits him. When Dr Johnson (Alex Blake) asks him why he does so, Garrick replies: "Money." Should Cordelia die in King Lear? Shakespeare said yes, insists Dr Johnson. No, says Garrick: the punters prefer a happy ending.


And so the witty interplay between the two giants of English stage and books went on.


For more background on this fascinating play, visit


Bob Low