Theatre Royal, Drury Lane: No Shakespeare here!

The Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, is one of London's most historic west end theatres. Today it is a popular venue for big budget musicals, with Oliver! and The Producers among recent productions housed there.


The current Theatre Royal is the fourth of that name, all on the same site. The first one was built in 1663 under a charter from Charles II. It burnt down around 1670 and was replaced by a behemoth almost three times its size. It was rebuilt again in 1794 and 1812; this last redesign is the one we still see today.


The theatre has hosted the great and good of London's theatre scene since its very opening. Nell Gwyn was discovered here, and in later years Shakespearean hero Edmund Kean, the King's Jester Dan Leno and comedy troupe Monty Python all performed here. Managers included David Garrick, credited with rehabilitating Shakespeare as a popular playwright and playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan.


The latter experienced one of the most embarrassing incidences of his life at the Theatre Royal, when he staged the ‘lost' Shakespeare play Vortigern and Rowena. Sheridan paid £300 for the production rights in 1796.


Although he thought the play ‘simple' compared with the Bard's great works, went ahead with a full-scale production. It ran for one performance, during which it was roundly mocked by cast and audience alike. Shortly after this disaster it was revealed to be the work of William Henry Ireland, a talented forger.