Oooh, anyone who loves Regency history will want to go to Drury Lane Theatre and go
by Kristine Hughes and Victoria Hinshaw
Through the Stage Door is the UK’s first Interactive Theatre Tour at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane. Directed by Andrea Brooks with three professional actors, the history of The Theatre Royal Drury Lane is brought to vivid life as key characters, writers and actors from the theatre’s 300 year old past take you back through time as you look around this famous theatre. Since its construction in 1663 the theatre has triumphed over tragedy, fire, bankruptcy and even murder.
The Theatre Royal in Drury Lane opened in 1663, soon after the Restoration when Charles II returned to the throne. This ended Parliament’s puritanical rule which had seen all theatres in England closed, and the destruction of Shakespeare’s Globe. Now in a new and more fun loving age, Thomas Killigrew formed the Kings Company and built the first Theatre Royal Drury Lane, an important symbol of Britain’s theatrical reinvigoration following the barren years of puritan rule.
Since that first theatre there have been three more theatres built on the site of the original, in 1674, 1794 and 1812. The 1794 theatre was built by dramatist and radical MP Richard Sheridan. This was the biggest of all the Drury Lane theatres. It was in this theatre that an assassination attempt was made against George III . James Hadfield fired two shots at King George who was sitting in the royal box. Both missed their target. The would-be assassin was arrested, and George ordered the performance to continue. The 1794 theatre burned down in February 1809, a disaster which ruined Sheridan. There is a well known and oft told anecdote regarding Sheridan and the night of the fire, the following account is from The Lives of Wits and Humourists by John Timbs:
“On the night of the 24th of February, 1809, while the House of Commons was occupied with Mr. Ponsonby’s motion on the conduct of the War in Spain, and Mr. Sheridan was in attendance, with the intention, no doubt, of speaking, the House was suddenly illuminated by a blaze of light; and the debate being interrupted, it was ascertained that Drurylane Theatre was on fire. A motion was made to adjourn; but Mr. Sheridan said, with much calmness, that “whatever might be the extent of the private calamity, he hoped it would not interfere with the public business of the country.” He then left the House, and proceeding to Drury-lane, witnessed, with a fortitude which strongly interested all who observed him, the entire destruction of his property. . . It is said that as he sat at the Piazza coffee-house, during the fire, taking some refreshment, a friend of his having remarked on the philosophical calmness with which he bore his misfortune, Sheridan answered, `A man may surely be allowed to take a glass of wine by his own fireside.’
“Among his losses on the occasion there was one which, from being associated with feelings of other times, may have affected him, perhaps, more deeply than any that were far more serious. A harpsichord that had belonged to his first wife, and had long survived her sweet voice in silent widowhood, was, with other articles of furniture that had been removed from Somerset House, (Sheridan’s official apartments,) to the theatre, lost in the flames. The cost of building of this vast theatre had exceeded 150,000 pounds; and the entire loss by the fire, including that of the performers, musicians, etc., was estimated at 300.000 pounds.”
Theatre Royal Drury Lane is now owned by Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Really Useful Company, and is used to stage musical theatre. The tour lasts approximately one hour, during which participants will meet characters such as the playwright Richard Sheridan, the great clown Grimaldi, the celebrated actress/mistress Nell Gwynne and many others who played an important role in the theatre’s history.
Tour Times: 10.15am and 11.45am – Wednesday and Saturday
2.15pm and 4.15pm – Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday