Theatre Royal Drury Lane

Catherine Street,
London, WC2B 5JF

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Theatre Royal Drury Lane

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The Theatre Royal Drury Lane is the most important theatre in London, and is one of the worlds most famous theatres. Located in Covent Garden in central London’s West End, the current building is the fourth theatre on the site.

It is the oldest site in the world in continuous theatre use. The first Theatre Royal was built in 1663. It was a small theatre, the size of the current theatre’s stage. It was destroyed in a fire, and the second Theatre Royal (twice the size of the previous theatre) was designed by architect Sir Christopher Wren in 1674. Famed actor David Garrick made this theatre his home in the 1740’s. It was redesigned by architect Robert Adam in 1775. Demolished in 1790, a third theatre was designed by architect Henry Holland, and this burnt down in 1809.

The fourth, and current theatre, was designed by architect Benjamin Dean Wyatt, and originally seated 3,060. The portico on the entrance on Catherine Street was added in 1820, and the cast-iron colonnade on the side of the theatre on Russell Street was designed by Samuel Beazley in 1831.

In 1915, the Theatre Royal became a cinema, when D.W. Griffiths’s “Birth of a Nation” was screened for a season. This was followed by a premier presentation of “Intolerance” from 7th April 1917.

The auditorium was redesigned by architects J. Walter Emblin, Frederick Edward Jones and Robert Cromie in 1922. Seating in the Empire style auditorium is in orchestra stalls, grand circle, upper circle and balcony levels. There are eight boxes on each of the side walls beside the proscenium.

The Theatre Royal is mainly known as the home of big scale musicals, and over the years these have included ""The Desert Song"(1925), Paul Robson in "Showboat"(1927), "The New Moon"(1929), Franz Lehar’s "Land of Smiles" from May 1931, and Noel Coward’s "Cavalcade" for October 1931. Ivor Novello musicals followed "Glamorous Nights"(1935), "Careless Rapture"(1936, "Crest of the Wave"(1937 and "The Dancing Years"(1938). During World War II it was taken over by E.N.S.A (entertaining the troops) and it received considerable damage to the rear of the circles during the Battle of Britain on the evening of 15th October 1940.

Repairs were made after the war, and it re-opened as a public theatre in December 1946 with Noel Coward’s "Pacific 1860". American musicals then took over "Oklahoma" on 30th April 1947, "Carousel"(1950), "South Pacific"(1951 and "King and I"(1953). In 1957 John Gielgud starred in William Shakespeare’s "The Tempest". This was followed by "My Fair Lady" from 30th April 1958, "Camelot"(1964), Mary Martin in "Hello Dolly!"(1965), "A Chorus Line"(1984), “42nd Street”(1984) and "Miss Saigon"(1989).

This tradition continues today, under the ownership of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Really Useful Group. The Theatre Royal Drury Lane is a Grade I Listed building.

Contributed by Ken Roe
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