The Theatre Royal, Drury Lane is a prominent West End theatre based in Covent Garden in London, and backs onto Drury Lane. Despite having been rebuilt three times there has been a theatre on the site since 1663, which technically makes it the oldest theatre in London.
The first theatre was built in 1663 and was designed by Christopher Wren. It stood until 1672 when it was ravaged by fire and burnt down; it was known as the Theatre Royal in Bridges Street. The theatre was then succeeded by a bigger and more elaborate building, which was also designed by Christopher Wren and could seat 2,000 people. The opening of the second theatre was attended by King Charles II and was renamed the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane.
The second theatre was managed by English actor David Garrick during the mid-eighteenth century and during his time as the theatre manager he produced many plays to be performed, including many of Shakespeare’s works.
In 1791 the theatre was demolished due to its capacity being too small and out of date and it was replaced by a larger theatre, designed by Henry Holland, which was opened in 1794. This larger theatre only stood for a further 15 years before once again being burnt down.
The theatre that we know today as the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane was designed by Benjamin Wyatt and reopened in 1812 with a production of Shakespeare’s Hamlet.
Drury Lane has always been considered a theatre for showing legitimate drama, rather than the musical entertainment often put on by the other theatres, however more entertainment based productions were taken on with the shows of the Carl Rose Opera Company and the introduction of
an annual pantomime in 1889 being major successes.
The theatre was closed in 1939 because of the war and was used as the headquarters for the Entertainments National Service Association. The theatre did sustain some minor damage from the war and was reopened in 1946 with a production of Noel Coward’s Pacific.
Post-war the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane saw the introduction of many Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals including Oklahoma!, South Pacific and The King and I.
More recent long running productions at the theatre have included 42nd Street, Miss Saigon, The Producers, a musical adaptation of The Lord of the Rings and is now showing the Dickens classic Oliver!