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Theatre Royal, Drury Lane

Theatre Royal, Drury Lane

Architects: Christopher Wren (second theatre), Henry Holland (third theatre), John Linnell (third theatre assistant architect), Benjamin Dean Wyatt (current theatre)

Current (Fourth) Theatre Opened: 10th October 1812 (211 years ago)

First Theatre Opened: 7th May 1663

Second Theatre Opened: 26th March 1674

Third Theatre Opened: 21st April 1794

Reopened after major refurbishment: 23rd August 2021

Former Names: The Theatre Royal in Bridges Street, The King’s Playhouse, The Theatre Royal in Drury Lane

Website: www.theatreroyaldrurylane.co.uk Open website in new window

Telephone: 0207 087 7760 Call 0207 087 7760

Address: Catherine Street, London, WC2B 5JF Show address in Google Maps (new window)

The current theatre building dates from 1812, however it is the fourth theatre building to have occupied the site, making this the oldest theatre site in London still in use today. The Drury Lane stage is the largest of any West End theatre and it has hosted many multi-year engagements, including a record-breaking 10-year run of “Miss Saigon”. The theatre is currently owned by noted composer Sir Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s LW Theatres group.

Featured Photos

Detailed Information

The Theatre Royal Drury Lane is one of the most important theatres in the world, with the site having been in theatrical use since 1663. The right to present dramatic entertainments dates from the Royal Patent granted by King Charles II to Thomas Killigrew in 1662, which is still in the possession of the theatre.

To this day the theatre’s name confuses those unfamiliar with it as its entrance is on Catherine Street...whereas Drury Lane is to the rear of the theatre.

First theatre: Theatre Royal in Bridges Street (1663-1672)
Present-day Catherine Street was originally called Bridges or Brydges Street. The new Theatre Royal opened on 7th May 1663 and was accessed from Brydges street, so became known by the name of the street accessing the theatre’s main entrance. It was built by dramatist Thomas Killigrew under Royal Charter from Charles II, and was alternatively known as the King’s Playhouse. The Great Plague of London forced the theatre to close, by order of the Crown, on 5th June 1665. It reopened roughly 18 months later featuring a widened stage, however burned to the ground in a fire on 25th January 1672.

Theatre Royal in 1775
Theatre Royal in 1775
Second theatre: Theatre Royal in Drury Lane (1674-1791)
A new theatre was built which opened on 26th March 1674 and is believed to have been designed by architect Sir Christopher Wren. The Theatre Royal, Bristol / Bristol Old Vic (completed 1766) was modeled on the 1674 theatre and designed by David Garrick’s master carpenter at Drury Lane, James Saunders, so affords a good indication of what the 1674 Drury Lane interior looked like. The architect Robert Adam later remodeled the external façade and auditorium in 1775. From 1747 to 1776 the theatre was managed by David Garrick. By 1791 the theatre was in dire need of updating and it was decided the only option was demolition.

Third theatre (1794-1809)
Theatre Royal in 1808
Theatre Royal in 1808
Henry Holland, with some assistance by John Linnell, designed the latest theatre for manager Richard B. Sheridan, and it was the largest theatre to have stood on the Drury Lane site catering for up to 3,611 patrons. It opened on 21st April 1794 with a production of Shakespeare’s “Macbeth”. Except for churches, it was the tallest building in London. The auditorium featured a semicircular arrangement of four tiers of boxes, including proscenium boxes at the sides of the 45ft wide forestage. The proscenium boxes were supported by pilasters featuring candelabra and circular mirrors 5ft in diameter, the mirrors said to produce a pleasing reflected view of the audience. There were two galleries above the uppermost box level. The stage itself was large at 83ft wide by 92ft deep. Fire prevention features included an iron safety curtain and tanks of water on the roof, however the theatre burned-down on 24th February 1809. Owner Richard B. Sheridan allegedly watched the flames from the street while sipping a glass of wine and said “Surely a man may be allowed to take a glass of wine by his own fireside”.

Current Building (1812)

Theatre Royal in 1897
Theatre Royal in 1897

The current building, designed by Benjamin Dean Wyatt, opened on 10th October 1812. In 1820 the portico that still stands at the theatre’s front entrance on Catherine Street was added, and in 1831 the colonnade running down the Russell Street side of the building was added.

The entrance lobby opens into a central rotunda that is open to the higher levels with a gallery one level above. On either side of the rotunda are symmetrical grand staircases leading to the Royal Circle and Grand Saloon, the latter of which is located above the main lobby.

Following the unveiling of the third theatre where King George III attempted to box the Prince Regent’s ears, slapping him around the face, the theatre created separate sides to distance the warring King George III from the Prince Regent (later to become King George IV). The House Left side of the theatre is therefore designated as the King’s side, and House Right is the Prince’s side.

To this day the theatre maintains two Royal boxes, keeping the left for ‘the King’ and the right for ‘the Prince’, which are both adorned with their respective Royal crests. As part of the 2020’s renovation, seats in the auditorium were decorated with the King’s and Prince’s crest depending on which side of the theatre they fall within.

The theatre closed in September 1904 to undergo substantial renovations and improvements to the designs of Philip E. Pilditch, the consulting architect to the Marquess of Salisbury and the Duke of Bedford. The theatre reopened on 26th December (Boxing Day) 1904, with multiple new staircases added to assist the speedy entrance and exit of patrons, with combustible wooden features in the auditorium replaced with fibrous plaster. A massive new electrolier was hung from the center of the auditorium ceiling.

Backstage, ancient wooden traps in the stage floor were condemned, to be replaced by “metal devices” connected by galleries made of steel under the stage. Above the stage, the “numerous hempen ropes employed in the manipulation of scenery” were removed, replaced by steel wire and counterweights operated from new steel galleries on either side of the stage.

On 25th March 1908 a fire destroyed the stage and backstage areas. The fire was initially attributed to an electrical fault, however it was subsequently asserted that the building’s electrics were switched-off at 6pm the previous day and the fire alarm sounded at 3:20am the next morning. The auditorium and Front of House areas were saved by the lowering of the fire curtain and a fast response from fire crews. Most of the electrical system was renewed following the fire, an overview of which is documented here.

Theatre Royal in 1922
Theatre Royal in 1922

In 1922 a major interior renovation was undertaken at a cost of £150,000, resulting in the current auditorium arrangement of four levels of Stalls, Royal Circle, Grand Circle, and Gallery, accommodating just over 2,000 patrons. Interior decoration was by specialist ornamental plasterwork company Clark and Fenn, in what has become one of their most notable interiors.

The theatre was dark during the World War II when it was used as the home base for the Entertainments National Service Association. On 15th October 1940 the theatre took a direct hit from a gas bomb which tore through floors to the Stalls (main floor) level of the auditorium, however did not explode. The theatre reopened post-war on 19th December 1946.

Since 2005 Sir Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s Really Useful Theatre Group, now LW Theatres, has owned the theatre. On 7th May 2013, Lloyd-Webber revealed a £4 million restoration of the theatre to mark its 350th anniversary. The detailed restoration returned the public areas of the Rotunda, Royal Staircases, and Grand Saloon, all of which were part of the 1810 theatre, to their original Regency style.

Theatre Royal in 2017
Theatre Royal in 2017

In late 2017 Westminster Council granted permission for an extensive renovation of the theatre which commenced in January 2019 and was expected to last 18-20 months. Access to the auditorium was to be greatly improved with increased toilet facilities and disabled access introduced. The stagehouse would be upgraded with a new grid and flying system. The raked (sloped) stage would be leveled to accommodate large-scale modern productions, and the theatre’s historic substage machinery would be removed after being documented. While it is sad that the historic machinery was removed, theatres are not museums and must adapt to accommodate the needs of modern theatrical productions. As the largest stage in London’s West End, Drury Lane had to adapt to accommodate the biggest and best productions for generations to come.

A large prop – yet practical – bell is hung backstage, usually in the Fly Floor area high above the stage, most likely left over from the 1972 production “Gone With The Wind”. Tradition has it that the bell is rung with the applause at the end of the final performance of a show’s run at the theatre. The bell was last rung on 5th January 2019 at the closing performance of “42nd Street”. The bell remained within the building during LW Theatres’ renovation and, thanks to long-term staff at the theatre, the tradition will continue to ring the bell during the curtain call of a show’s run’s final performance at the theatre.

It was announced in March 2019 that Disney’s Frozen Link opens in new window would reopen the theatre. Previews commenced 27th August 2021 (delayed from Autumn 2020 and then Spring 2021 due to the Covid-19 pandemic) with the official opening on 8th September 2021.

2021 sketch by Phil Dean
2021 sketch by Phil Dean

After a closure of approximately 30 months, the building reopened on 23rd July 2021 following its £60 million restoration, with free public access to The Garden, the Cecil Beaton Cocktail Bar, and the Rotunda Champagne Bar located in the base of the theatre’s magnificent rotunda.

With landscaping designed by Cameron Landscapes, The Garden Link opens in new window has soaring high ceilings, oversized chandeliers, indoor/outdoor seating, and offers a simple and seasonal curated menu. The Cecil Beaton Bar Link opens in new window is named after high-society photographer and renowned costume designer Cecil Beaton. The elegant bar and lounge is open until late and does not require reservations. The Grand Saloon Link opens in new window opened in September 2021 offering decadent afternoon tea. Further details are available at The Lane website Link opens in new window.

Notable long runs (over 1,000 performances) at Drury Lane:

Performance numbers were provided by the theatre; some online reports have conflicting numbers however their source is not known.

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Listed/Landmark Building Status

How do I visit the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane?

Guided Tours are given in English and last approximately 1 hour. There are 20 spaces available per tour. Tours meet in the main foyer/lobby. Theatre Royal Drury Lane is a working theatre, so no two tours are the same. Sometimes the route will need to change due to other events taking place in the building. This is a walking tour with numerous steps and backstage areas so comfortable shoes are recommended.

Tour schedule: Wed & Fri: 10:30am, 12pm, 2:30pm. Thu & Sat: 10:30am, 12pm. Sun: 10:30am. Tickets £18.50 (no booking fee).

Booking line 020 7087 7748 Link opens in new window, or online at the theatre’s tour website Link opens in new window, which also includes additional information about the tour.

Further Reading



Technical Information

Flying System
Grid Height (prior to 2019/20 refit)
72ft (21.9m)
General Information
Seating Capacity (prior to 2019/20 refit)
2,196 (Stalls 882, Royal Circle 413, Grand Circle 446, Balcony 421, Boxes 34)
Stage Dimensions
Distance between Fly Floors
60ft (18.3m)
Fly Floor Clearance Underneath
26ft (7.9m)
Proscenium Height
31ft 6in (9.6m)
Proscenium Width
42ft (12.8m)
Stage Depth
80ft (24.4m)
Stage Rake (prior to 2019/20 refit)
1:24 for the first 45ft (13.7m) of depth, then flat to the rear stage wall
Stage Width
80ft (24.4m)
Historic Photos & Documents
Files displayed in this section may be subject to copyright; refer to our Copyright Fair Use Statement regarding our use of copyrighted media.

Photos of the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane

Jump to Photo Section:

  1. Exterior
  2. Auditorium
  3. Front of House
  4. Backstage General Photos
  5. Fly Floor
  6. Grid
  7. Long Dock (Old Scenic Workshop)
  8. Painting Room
  9. Understage Machinery
  10. Mid-Restoration (December 2019): Auditorium
  11. Mid-Restoration (December 2019): Front of House
  12. Mid-Restoration (December 2019): Stage
  13. Mid-Restoration (December 2019): Grid, Attic, & Roof
  14. Mid-Restoration (December 2019): Basement
  15. Pre-Restoration (December 2018); Front of House

The exterior appearance of the theatre has remained largely unchanged since the fourth theatre building was completed in 1810, aside from the addition of the Catherine Street portico in 1820 and the Russell Street colonnade in 1831.


Photos taken after the £60 million restoration project which commenced in January 2019 and saw the theatre reopen in August 2021.

Front of House

The central rotunda leads to the grand staircases of the King’s Side (House Left) and the Prince’s Side (House Right). Both staircases lead to the Grand Saloon, located above the entrance lobby, and also afford access to the upper gallery level of the rotunda. The lower level in the rotunda leads to the Stalls via the Stalls Bar.

The main entrance to the theatre is from Catherine Street and features the Box Office, 1918 Telephone Booth, and a grand display board listing the theatre’s Patent Holders, Lesees, and Managers since 1663.

Backstage General Photos

Photos taken after the £60 million restoration project which commenced in January 2019 and saw the theatre reopen in August 2021.

Fly Floor

Of the three galleries which surround the stage on three sides, the Fly Floor is the lowest level and is situated roughly midway up the height of the stagehouse, from Stage floor to Grid. The Loading Gallery is the uppermost level, and the intermediate level is primarily an LX Gallery.

Photos taken after the £60 million restoration project which commenced in January 2019 and saw the theatre reopen in August 2021.


Areas of the Grid and flying system are color-coded to indicate usage, for instance orange is building structural, black is permanent structure, yellow is transferable/movable equipment suspension. Purple is for automated items, and blue is used for suspensions which are non-standard, for instance those located underneath the Grid’s support beams (see Backstage photos).

Photos taken after the £60 million restoration project which commenced in January 2019 and saw the theatre reopen in August 2021.

Long Dock (Old Scenic Workshop)

The Long Dock (the old Scenic Workshop) is behind the stage with the long wall fronting onto Russell Street and the entrance façade fronting onto Drury Lane at the rear of the theatre. Although now used as offices for LW Theatres Link opens in new window, it was originally a scenic workshop with facilities for storing backdrops, and served not just the Theatre Royal but other theatres as well. A number of the backdrops from “Oklahoma!”, which ran at the theatre from 1947 to 1953 and starred Howard Keel and Betty Jane Watson, are stored within the space. The widest of these is approximately 44ft (13.7m) wide.

Above the rafters there was another floor level, long since removed. Fireplaces can still be seen high up on the wall at this level.

Painting Room

The theatre is home to some of the last working paint frames in central London. There are four paint frames still in operation, a pair in the center of the room and one at either side wall.

Paint Frame 1, the largest of the four paint frames, is approximately 70ft by 32ft (21m by 9.8m). Paint Frame 3 is approximately 50ft by 32ft (15.2m by 9.8m). Paint Frame 4 is approximately 56ft (17.2m) wide.

The doors from Drury Lane into the Painting Room measure approximately 6ft 3in wide by 22ft 4in high (1.9m wide by 6.8m high).

Understage Machinery

The understage machinery comprised six bridges, or elevators, each 40ft long and 6ft deep running across the stage. The center pair of bridges (hydraulic) were manufactured by Carl Dengg in Vienna and installed in 1896. The rear pair of bridges (DC electric) were manufactured by Drew Bear & Perks and installed in 1898. The front pair of bridges (DC electric) were manufactured by Lift & Engineering Co. and installed in 1931, for Noel Coward’s play Cavalcade Link opens in new window which premiered on 13th October 1931.

All the bridges rise above (up to 8ft) and fall far below stage level. The electric bridges stay level however the hydraulic bridges are pivoted with independent controls for the hydraulic ram at each end, allowing them to slant along their length.

Productions playing at the theatre which didn’t utilize the stage bridges generally had to shore them up to support the weight of the heavier set pieces now common in large-scale West End productions. The yellow metalwork seen in the photos below is the bridge strengthening support for the 2017-19 production of 42nd Street.

As part of a massive refurbishment project which commenced in January 2019, enabling the theatre to continue to attract the biggest shows to the biggest stage in the West End, the stagehouse will be brought up to modern standards including an entirely new grid and flying system, leveling of the raked stage, and removal of the understage machinery.

Extensive efforts were made to find a new home for the historic stage machinery. Sadly, despite an international search, no permanent home was found. Before removal, the stage machinery was temporarily recommissioned in order to be fully documented (photography, video, 3D modeling) for the preservation record. Some components will be temporarily stored at Unusual Rigging for further analysis and documentation...possibly longer-term storage. Ultimately, an informative exhibition about the stage machinery, probably including a scale model, will be on display when the theatre reopens in August 2021.

Mid-Restoration (December 2019): Auditorium

These photos document progress roughly halfway through the £60 million restoration project which commenced in January 2019. The theatre reopened in August 2021 with Disney’s Frozen Link opens in new window.

Mid-Restoration (December 2019): Front of House

These photos document progress roughly halfway through the £60 million restoration project which commenced in January 2019. The theatre reopened in August 2021 with Disney’s Frozen Link opens in new window.

Mid-Restoration (December 2019): Stage

These photos document progress roughly halfway through the £60 million restoration project which commenced in January 2019. The theatre reopened in August 2021 with Disney’s Frozen Link opens in new window.

Mid-Restoration (December 2019): Grid, Attic, & Roof

These photos document progress roughly halfway through the £60 million restoration project which commenced in January 2019. The theatre reopened in August 2021 with Disney’s Frozen Link opens in new window.

Mid-Restoration (December 2019): Basement

These photos document progress roughly halfway through the £60 million restoration project which commenced in January 2019. The theatre reopened in August 2021 with Disney’s Frozen Link opens in new window.

Pre-Restoration (December 2018); Front of House

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