Theatre Royal Drury Lane

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Architecturally and historically this is one of the most important theatres in the world. No other site in Britain has a longer history of continuous theatre use. The right of the Lane to present dramatic entertainments dates from the Royal Patent (still in the possession of the theatre) granted by Charles II to Killigrew in 1662.

Drury Lane shares with Haymarket Theatre Royal the distinction of being entirely pre-Victorian in external appearance (the Lyceum has a pre-Victorian portico). As now seen, the main theatrical shell, the staircase, rotunda, saloon etc of 1811-12, are by B D Wyatt and comprise the only substantial Georgian theatre fabric in London. The entrance façade is the earliest now surviving in London on a working theatre. It is a pity that the portico of 1820 is so obviously an addition to Wyatt’s restrained but elegant Neo-classical design, but Beazley’s side colonnade of 1831 is a worthy later adornment and a fine townscape feature, especially when viewed from Covent Garden Market.

The great staircase, rotunda & saloon are important late Georgian monuments in their own right and unparalleled in any British theatre for their splendour and sense of grand theatrical occasion. Inevitably, after the architectural promise of these public spaces, the comparatively modern (1922) auditorium disappoints, but only by contrast. It is of considerable quality and, from a theatrical viewpoint, remarkably successful and intimate. This is surprising when it is remembered that, in the 1920s, theatre architecture had no clear direction.

By Emblin Walker, Jones & Cromie, this is the last auditorium to be designed in the rich fin-de-siècle manner established by Matcham, Sprague & Crewe (the Fortune is only two years later and belongs to a totally different era). It has some points of kinship with Manchester Opera House (1912) and, more so, Manchester Palace (1913). The style is Empire with a rectangular proscenium and a modelled elliptical tympanum over. The proscenium is separated from three tiers of curving balcony fronts by deep canted side walls containing three bays of boxes at three levels, framed by pilasters and columns of imitation lapis lazuli. They have gilt capitals carrying an entablature from which a flared and coffered elliptical-arched ceiling springs across to form a deep sounding board.

The stage is raked at the front, flat at the back, with an extensive counterweight system. Elaborate metal stage machinery with six bridges (two tilting), described in the Stage Year Book for 1910, survived the 1922 works, and as rare survivals of their genre, they are highly significant. They are, however, not regularly used, and in 2007 works to accommodate an incoming show saw the machinery in part moved and altered, as well as being overhauled. Any alterations were temporary, however, and all machinery will be re-instated following the end of that particular show's run.

Drury Lane is, unlike almost every other West End theatre, generously planned, with a 130ft frontage and a depth of well over 300ft. Within this area, the auditorium, stage and additional backstage areas are contained in a succession of approx 80ft cubes. The vast backstage areas, such as the scene dock, present valuable opportunities for future improvements, although it must be noted are of architectural and historic merit in their own right.

The antiquity of the theatre and its complex building history makes it important that all future works, especially at lower levels should be monitored for recordable evidence of earlier phases.

Built / Converted
1812
Dates of use
  • 1663 : continuing
Current state
Extant
Current use
Theatre (there has been a permanent theatre on this site from 1663 until the present day. From 1915 used occasionally for films, but never consistently)
Address
Catherine Street, London, Westminster, WC2B 5JF, England
Further details
Other names
Drury Lane Theatre Royal , Theatre Royal on Brydges Street , Theatre Royal
Events
  • 1635 Design/Construction: temporary playhouse (architect unknown)
  • 1663 Use: continuing
  • 1663 Design/Construction: first permanent building following grant of Patent (architect Wren or Webb, or possibly Richard Ryder)
  • 1663 Owner/Management: Thomas Killigrew (King's servants)
  • 1672 Design/Construction: completely new theatre
    Sir Christopher Wren
    - Architect
  • 1682 Owner/Management: Killigrew & Betterton (King's servants & Duke's servants)
  • 1711 Owner/Management: Wilkes, Doggett & Cibber
  • 1747 Owner/Management: Garrick & Lacey
  • 1775 Alteration: auditorium reconstructed
    Robert Adam
    - Architect
  • 1776 Owner/Management: R B Sheridan
  • 1794 Design/Construction: entirely rebuilt
    Henry Holland
    - Architect
  • 1812 Owner/Management: Samuel Arnold
  • 1812 Design/Construction: entirely rebuilt following fire
    Benjamin Dean Wyatt
    - Architect
  • 1814 Alteration: proscenium altered; major redecoration of interior (architect unknown)
  • 1818 Alteration: saloon altered (architect unknown)
  • 1819 Alteration: redecorated (architect unknown)
  • 1820 Alteration: portico added (dubiously attrib. to Sir John Soane)
    James Spiller
    - Architect
  • 1822 Alteration: auditorium remodelled; backstage improved
    Samuel Beazley
    - Architect
  • 1826 Owner/Management: Stephen Price
  • 1831 Owner/Management: Alfred Bunn
  • 1831 Alteration: colonnade added on Russell St front
    Samuel Beazley
    - Architect
  • 1837 Alteration: interior decorated
    Crace
    - Interior design
  • 1841 Owner/Management: W C Macready
  • 1841 Alteration: various minor alterations (also 1847 and 1851)
    Samuel Beazley (possibly with William Parsons)
    - Architect
  • 1843 Owner/Management: Alfred Bunn
  • 1852 Owner/Management: E T Smith
  • 1863 Owner/Management: F B Chatterton
  • 1870 Alteration: interior altered
    Marsh Nelson & Harvey
    - Architect
  • 1879 Owner/Management: Augustus Harris
  • 1897 Owner/Management: Arthur Collins
  • 1901 Alteration: auditorium reconstructed
    Philip Pilditch
    - Architect
  • 1922 Design/Construction:
    Adrian Collins
    - Consultant
    consulting engineer
    Campbell Smith
    - Consultant
    decorators
    F de Jong
    - Consultant
    fibrous plaster
    Hampton & Son
    - Consultant
    carpets & draperies
  • 1922 Alteration: auditorium entirely rebuilt
    Emblin Walker Jones & Cromie
    - Architect
  • 1924 Owner/Management: Alfred Butt
  • 1931 Owner/Management: George Grossmith
  • 1932 Owner/Management: H M Tennant
  • 1939 Owner/Management: ENSA
  • 1946 Owner/Management: Prince Littler Theatre Royal Drury Lane Ltd
  • 1952 - 1953 Alteration: strengthening of roof structure
    Joseph Emberton
    - Architect
  • 1990 - 1999 Owner/Management: controlled by Stoll Moss (Holmes a Court)
  • 2000 Owner/Management: Really Useful Theatre Group
Capacities
  • Capacity
    Original
    Description
    1812: c.3060
  • Capacity
    Later
    Description
    1922: c.2600
    1946 & 1971: 2283
  • Capacity
    Current
    Description
    2237
Listings
  • Listing
    I
Stage type
Proscenium; raked stage, flat at rear
Building dimensions: -
Stage dimensions: Depth: 80ft Width SL: c.39ft SR: c.39ft
Proscenium width: 42ft
Height to grid: 70ft
Inside proscenium: approx 49ft
Orchestra pit: Enlarged