The Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, commonly known as Drury Lane, is a West End theatre in Covent Garden, in the London borough of Westminster. The building faces Catherine Street (earlier named Bridges or Brydges Street) and backs onto Drury Lane. The current building is the most recent in a line of four theatres which were built at the same location, the earliest of which dates back to 1663, making it the oldest theatre site in London. For its first two centuries, Drury Lane could "reasonably have claimed to be London's leading theatre". For most of that time, it was one of a handful of patent theatres, granted monopoly rights to the production of "legitimate" (meaning spoken plays, rather than opera, dance, concerts, or plays with music) drama in London.
The first theatre on the site was built at the behest of Thomas Killigrew in the early years of the English Restoration. Initially known as "Theatre Royal in Bridges Street", its proprietors hired a number of prominent actors who performed at the theatre on a regular basis, including Nell Gwyn and Charles Hart. In 1672 the theatre caught fire and Killigrew built a larger theatre on the same plot, designed by Sir Christopher Wren; renamed the "Theatre Royal in Drury Lane," it opened in 1674. This building lasted nearly 120 years, under the leaderships of Colley Cibber, David Garrick and Richard Brinsley Sheridan, the last of whom employed Joseph Grimaldi as the theatre's resident Clown.
In 1791, under Sheridan's management, the building was demolished to make way for a larger theatre which opened in 1794. This enormous new Drury Lane survived for only 15 years before burning down in 1809. The building that stands today opened in 1812. It has been the residency of a number of well known actors including; Edmund Kean, child actress Clara Fisher, comedian Dan Leno, musical composer and performer Ivor Novello and the comedy troupe Monty Python (who recorded a concert album there). Today, the theatre is owned by composer Andrew Lloyd Webber who stages his popular musical theatre shows at the venue. It is a Grade I listed building.
Drury Lane has been called one of the world's most haunted theatres. The appearance of almost any one of the handful of ghosts that are said to frequent the theatre signals good luck for an actor or production. The most famous ghost is the "Man in Grey", who appears dressed as a nobleman of the late 18th century: powdered hair beneath a tricorne hat, a dress jacket and cloak or cape, riding boots and a sword. Legend says that the Man in Grey is the ghost of a knife-stabbed man whose skeletal remains were found within a walled-up side passage in 1848.
The ghosts of actor Charles Macklin and clown Joseph Grimaldi are supposed to haunt the theatre. Macklin appears backstage, wandering the corridor which now stands in the spot where, in 1735, he killed fellow actor Thomas Hallam in an argument over a wig ("Goddamn you for a blackguard, scrub, rascal!" he shouted, thrusting a cane into Hallam's face and piercing his left eye). Grimaldi is reported to be a helpful apparition, purportedly guiding nervous actors skilfully about the stage on more than one occasion. The comedian Stanley Lupino claimed to have seen the ghost of Dan Leno in a dressing room.