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The Theatre Royal Drury Lane is known as the most haunted theatre in London. Among the ghosts are Charles Macklin, who murdered a fellow actor on stage by accident because of a wig argument; pantomime comedian Dan Leno and one of the earliest clowns Joe Grimaldi (whose ghost allegedly likes to play pranks on staff).
Its most famous ghost is the Man in Grey. Usually only turning up during the day for rehearsals, an actor or production member should be happy to see him – he’s believed to appear only when the show will be a success!
In the 1870s a gruesome discovery was made in a hidden room behind a wall – a skeleton with a knife in the chest. No wonder the Drury Lane is so haunted!
Four separate theatres have existed on the site; the second lasted the longest at an impressive 117 years, while the third held the most people: a mind-boggling 3,600. The current theatre has been around since 1812.
It is the oldest theatre site in the West End, and every monarch has visited it since it opened.
Although the theatre was untouched by the Great Fire of London in 1666, it ironically burned to the ground six years later.
A bomb struck the Drury Lane theatre during the Second World War; to this day, the nose of the bomb is on display in the corridors.
The Theatre Royal, Drury Lane had the world’s first safety curtain.
The theatre hosted the theatrical adaptation of The Lord of the Rings from 2007-8, and with the price tag of £12 million, it is the most expensive stage production ever made.
Some of the most ambitious scenes staged at Drury Lane include a sinking ship, an earthquake and a train crash.
West End champion Michael Crawford, who went on to become the infamous Phantom in The Phantom of the Opera, saw his career launched here with a lead role in musical Billy in the ‘70s.
King George III was shot at here in 1800 while entering his box – luckily the bullet missed, and the King even managed to take a nap during the interval!
‘Baddeley Cake’ is provided in the backstage green room – it’s named after one Robert Baddeley, a long-time member of the Drury Lane theatre company, who left money in his will to provide baked goods for performers for years!
The theatre was the venue where people heard ‘Rule Britannia’ and the national anthem for the first time.
If there is one theatre worth visiting for its history alone, it’s the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. It’s more than 300 years old, so it comes as no surprise that it’s one of the most haunted places in London (with friendly ghosts, so no need to worry!).
Its early triumph can be easily attributed to being one of only two theatres to receive royal permission to perform drama. And even though it no longer had this exclusive right by the mid-19th century, manager Augustus Harris knew how to make a name for the theatre. Its uniquely large size helped capture his imagination, and he staged the most extraordinary and expensive productions, for which he always reaped plenty of rewards.
Future managers knew Harris was on to something, and kept up the spectacular productions, making them somewhat of a Drury Lane tradition. Post-war, legendary composers Rodgers and Hammerstein ruled the roost with Oklahoma!, Carousel, South Pacific and The King and I all staged within 10 years. This paved the way for a 20th century of classic musicals at Drury Lane, including productions of My Fair Lady, Hello, Dolly! and A Chorus Line, taking to the magnificent stage for a number of years each.
You don’t need to go back too far to recall Drury Lane’s penchant for blockbuster musicals; tap-dancing extravaganza 42nd Street pittered-pattered its way into audience’s hearts for 5 years, while Vietnam War love story Miss Saigon holds the Drury Lane record at 10 years and 4,200 performances for its longest show. Acclaimed crowd-pleasers Oliver! and Mel Brooks’ The Producers were its biggest ‘00s hits, proving that its days as a most sought-after London theatre are by no means numbered.