Theatre Royal, Drury Lane - History and Facts | History Hit

Theatre Royal, Drury Lane

London, England, United Kingdom

Image Credit: Claudio Divizia / Shutterstock

About Theatre Royal, Drury Lane

The Theatre Royal, Drury Lane is the fourth incarnation of this theatre on the same spot, making it the oldest theatre site in London still in use. It remains a thriving cultural hub, staging productions of major musicals in more recent years.

History of the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane

During Oliver Cromwell’s Protectorate in the 1650s, theatres were closed in England – they were seen as an ungodly form of entertainment. Following the restoration of Charles II in 1660, letters patent were issued allowing the opening of theatres in London once again, including to one Thomas Killigrew, who built the first Theatre Royal on this site. It attracted some of the biggest actors and actresses of the day including Nell Gwynne, Charles II’s long term mistress.

In 1672, the original theatre caught fire and burned to the ground – a common problem in theatres before the invention of electricity. The second incarnation of the Theatre Royal hosted famous directors of the day including Richard Sheridan and David Garrick (whom the Garrick Theatre is named after). Under Sheridan’s management, the theatre was demolished and reopened in 1794, having been significantly enlarged, allowing it to hold up to 3,600 spectators.

Sheridan shouldered the financial burden (which was huge) of this project, but this new theatre didn’t meet with a warm welcome. It was described as ‘cavernous’ and in 1800, an assassination attempt against King George III happened here, which further damaged the theatre’s reputation.

In 1812, Sheridan left the board and the Theatre Royal was redesigned again – it was gas lit and made to feel more intimate once more. The theatre passed through hands of proprietors regularly for the next 150 years or so, and was renovated and modernised in 1922. In 2000, the Theatre Royal was purchased by the British composer Andrew Lloyd Webber, and his management company, LW Theatres, have overseen the theatre ever since.

The Theatre Royal, Drury Lane today

Performances still take place almost nightly at the Theatre Royal – cheap on the day tickets can normally be found from booths around central London, or look online in advance if you want to plan a trip. You can snap up some tickets from as little as £15, but if you want the good seats, you’ll be looking at £75+ each.

Fortunately, the Theatre Royal also offers one hour whistle-stop guided tours, and has a newly refurbished all day café-bar if you fancy a bite to eat in central London.

The theatre is said to be haunted – so keep an eye out for potential ghosts. Fortunately, seeing a ghost before a performance is said to be a sign of good luck in the theatre world.

Getting to the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane

The Theatre Royal is just off the Strand and despite its name, it’s not actually on Drury Lane anymore, but Catherine Street. It’s a 5 minute walk from Covent Garden and Temple tube stations, and buses from all over greater London stop on the Strand itself. You can walk here from many central London attractions, including Piccadilly Circus, Leicester Square and Trafalgar Square.

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