The souvenir brochure at the Drury Lane Theatre opens with this statement: "Theatre Royal Drury Lane has, over the last three centuries, established itself as a centre of performing excellence and extraordinary versatility. Tragedy, fire, bankruptcy and argument have all taken their toll, nonetheless "Old Drury" has survived to earn itself a reputation second to none."
Victoria, here, reporting on the tour Kristine and I took of the theatre a few days after the conclusion of the Duke of Wellington Tour in September 2014. The Grade One Listed building claims to be the oldest theatre still in use in London.
Drury Lane Theatre, c. 1808, third building of the name on the site
by Rowlandson and Pugin
Today's Theatre Royal Drury Lane
In 1809, the Theatre Royal Drury Lane burned down. A famous story is told about Richard Brinsley Sheridan, an MP, playwright, and owner of the theatre. Supposedly, he watched the flames from the street while sipping a glass of wine, and said, "Surely a man may be allowed to take a glass of wine by his own fireside."
The present building dates from 1812, the fourth theatre here since Restoration times. However, as we learned, portions of the "workings" below stage date from earlier years.
Nell of Old Drury: In its early days the pub was known as The Lamb. It is said Charles II used a secret passage way beneath the road which connected pub and theatre when he wished to meet Nell Gwynn.
The inside of the theatre, the rotunda, lobbies, and bars are lavishly built and decorated, as befit the place to see and be seen.
In 2013, Andrew Lloyd Webber purchased this copy of Antonio Canova's famous sculpture "The Three Graces" to stand in the lower rotunda. Restoration of the theatre had returned the decor and colors to their Georgian originals, in keeping with Webber's desire to have it reflect authentic Regency design.
Edmund Kean (1787-1833) performed at as Shylock in Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice in 1814, supposedly causing some to faint in their seats at his realism.
King George III loved watching the audience members arriving from the balcony of the rotunda. When he became outraged that his son, the future Prince Regent and George IV, created a disturbance with his noisy friends, the theatre managers were upset.
Ultimately they split the entrance into King's and Prince's sides, which remain today.
Michael William Balfe, (1808-1870), Composer, Violinist and Singer
David Garrick (1717-1779) Poet, Actor, and Producer, managed the Drury Lane for 29 years.
William Shakespeare (1564-1616) Poet, Playwright
Above and below, The Royal Retiring Room
Below, the Auditorium, stage at left
The Prince's Side
The King's Side, above and below
lighting above the stage
Above and below, the Grand Saloon
Ivor Novello (1893-1951) Composer and Actor
Ira Aldridge (1807-1867) Famous Shakespearean Actor
"The African Roscius"
Bomb Casing from the Blitz; the theatre continued to operate during WWII
Some wag's comment on the "luminaries" throughout the building
Above and below; deep under the stage some of the mechanicals date back to the 18th Century
The excellent technical equipment and huge stage have allowed vast spectacles to be performed at Drury Lane, including one I saw a few years ago, Miss Saigon, which had a helicopter land on the stage. The production showing when we visited was Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
Outside, the Stage Door
Nearby, a memorial to Sir Augustus Harris (1825-1873)
Actor, Dramatist and Impresario, manager of the Drury Lane
Our intrepid tour guide who did a wonderful job, but couldn't turn up any of the theatre's ghosts