Upon visiting London, audiences are likely to be stunned by the architecture and designs of London theatres and this is no different with the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, which is amongst the most important and historical of all the West End venues. This is not simply because it regularly houses high profile West End musicals, but also because it has stood on the site for hundreds of years, where countless audiences have passed through its doors and an abundance of famous faces have walked its stage. Even Kings and Queens have taken their seats in the Royal boxes of the auditorium, with an array of Monarchs adding to the history over the centuries.
Whilst the venue that we see before us today dates back to 1812, there has in fact been a theatre on the site since 1663, with subsequent buildings appearing and disappearing in the intervening years. So like many venues, the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane has not been without its setbacks; joining a long list of London theatres that have suffered at the hand of fire, only to re-emerge in a new form for theatergoers to continue to enjoy. It means that the familiar faces that have appeared here are not simply restricted to 20th century stars, but also some of the best known stage names of previous centuries as well.
Then there are the architects responsible for the theatres that have stood on the site. As it spans many centuries – even before the current building was constructed – there are many names associated with the venue over the years, with Benjamin Wyatt the one responsible for its current incarnation. Before that, it was Thomas Killigrew who was responsible for the original building in 1663, plus its subsequent version that appeared in 1674 – the first one burning down earlier in that decade. This second version remained for more than a century, before being replaced by the third version in 1794 under the designs of Henry Holland.
So by the time that the Theatre Royal, Dury Lane that modern audiences are familiar with opened in 1812 there was already a long history associated with the venue, so it had a lot to live up to and a host of top shows to present. So the next two centuries would continue to add to its legacy as it welcomed new shows and also survived the devastation of two world wars.
As the venue has remained in the capital for such a long period of time and is currently owned by one of the biggest names in show business – Andrew Lloyd Webber – it only stands to reason that it has housed some famous productions, from grand adaptations of bestselling books to musicals based on blockbusting movies. During the 20th century it would cement its status as one of the best known places to witness the most high profile musicals around, with various productions from the world-famous duo Rogers and Hammerstein II appearing during the 1940s, 1950 and 1960s, following on from successful stagings of Ivor Novello’s work in the preceding decades. Then, as the century progressed, further high profile American shows would make their way to its stage, lending the venue a positive reputation that would ensure its legacy to the modern day.
And so it is only right that in recent years it has continued to welcome such high profile musicals. In the 21st century it has been the home of “The Producers”, “The Lord of the Rings”, “Oliver the Musical” and Shrek The Musical.
In fact, “Oliver the Musical” has been one of the best known shows to appear in London in recent years, featuring some well known names in its iconic roles. Amongst them is Jodie Prenger, who won the role of Nancy thanks to the BBC talent show “I’d Do Anything”, getting the opportunity to star alongside Rowan Atkinson in the process. The latter appeared in the role of Fagin and was the first in a long line of comic actors to appear in the show during its run (the others being Omid Djalili, Griff Rhys Jones and Russ Abbot). It meant that the musical was regularly appearing on the news and receiving plenty of attention.
Soon to follow it up in 2011 is the musical adaptation of one of Hollywood’s best known animated characters – Shrek. After appearing in four movies and on stages across the United States, the show finally appears in the West End, where it is likely to attract huge audiences like Theatre Royal, Drury Lane shows before it. Once again it will be adding to the long list of names to have appeared on its stage as it welcomes Amanda Holden, Richard Blackwood, Nigel Lindsay and Nigel Harman as part of its cast. It is amongst the shows ensuring that the Theatre Royal Drury Lane has many centuries of hit productions yet to come.
Further Facts about the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane
Ghosts - According to reports, the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane is the most haunted theatre in the world. People have reported sightings of various specters over the years, including the ‘Man in Grey’ and even sightings of some famous actors from previous generations.
Hamlet - The first production to appear in the modern version of the theatre was a version of “Hamlet” from October 1812.
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