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Former manager Sir John Buckstone has been seen and heard all through the theatre – as a ghost! Audience members, theatre staff and even legendary stage stars Judi Dench and Patrick Stewart have reported seeing him.
Charles Macklin founded what could be considered the first drama school, assembling his students to put on performances for a live audience.
A previous theatre existed on its current site called ‘The Little Theatre in the Hay’; this was built in 1720.
It was the first theatre to have a stage ‘framed’ as if by a picture frame.
Profits from a production of Trilby at the Haymarket were used to build Her Majesty’s Theatre, current home of The Phantom of the Opera.
It hosted the first ever production of Oscar Wilde’s An Ideal Husband in 1893.
During the Blitz, the Haymarket was watched over by actor John Gielgud, who set up living quarters in one of the dressing rooms to act as fire warden.
Built in a rough peddler neighbourhood in 1720, the 'Little Theatre in the Hay' struggled at first because, technically, it was illegal to put on plays there. Though it seems nonsensical, plenty of theatres stayed open by putting on performances which weren't plays, or by simply ignoring the law and doing it in secret. The Haymarket survived by doing a little of both.
But perhaps it pushed a little too far, because when it put on a satire mocking the Prime Minister in the 1730s, it triggered a censorship law that tied the hands of all theatres, requiring government approval for every production. Luckily, an unfortunate accident that saw manager Samuel Foote break his leg turned into a fortunate pity favour from the Duke of York, who granted the Haymarket a Royal Charter and summer-only performance licence, allowing it to rename itself ‘Theatre Royal, Haymarket’ and put on any show it wanted.
It expanded in a new building, but didn’t get its glamorous front face until 1821, when measures were taken to ‘beautify’ London. Its reputation grew over the years as it attracted the glitterati of the day, including Queen Victoria herself.
This wave of prestige carried it into becoming a venue today for all-star plays, although it has hosted musicals from time to time. Every imaginable British theatre actor has trodden its boards including Ian McKellen, Peter O’Toole, Patrick Stewart, Judi Dench, Helen Mirren and Maggie Smith. And under the artistic direction of Trevor Nunn, that’s likely to continue.