Theatre Royal Drury Lane: A star reborn
In January 2019, 42nd Street played to its final audience, closing the curtain on an almost two year run. With the end of the musical, came the start of an ambitious £60 million project to completely restore and reimagine the historic Theatre Royal Drury Lane for the modern day.
A centrepiece of theatrical history for over 350 years, the theatre’s impressive list of past performers and productions reads like a who’s-who of theatrical royalty. Theatre Royal Drury Lane has been home to some of the most breath-taking spectacles seen on a West End stage as well as being the trailblazer for theatre innovation.
First constructed in 1663, Theatre Royal Drury Lane is the oldest theatre site in continuous use in the world. Under the leadership of award-winning architect Steve Tompkins, the restoration plans not only brought the building’s original features back to life, but focused as much on the future as they did the past. For example, the grand cantilevered Wyatt staircases which were lost 100 years ago are now revealed to create new areas for seating and hospitality.
The auditorium has been remodelled to create wider seats, more legroom and better sight lines. The auditorium has also been reshaped to create a tighter curve, bringing the audience and the performer closer together, with flexibility built in to allow for both a thrust stage, and in the round performances. Behind the scenes, a new flexible staging system has been installed as well as a new steel grid, making the stage capable of housing the biggest musicals in the West End.
Many other changes were made in order to make the magnificent building fit for current and future visitors. Access improvements to the building include a new street level entrance, ramps to the stalls, additional wheelchair spaces across three levels, five new accessible WCs and a 16-person passenger lift catering to all floors of the theatre. In a bid to curb bathroom-waiting times, 20 female cubicles were installed, taking the number of female WCs to 55 - one of the highest provisions in the West End.
The Lane will reopen in August 2021 with a new 5-star offering to attract new visitors to the building with cocktails, afternoon tea, guided tours, live entertainment and fine art within some of England’s most opulent Georgian rooms. It is a magnificent addition to the London scene for everyone, not just theatregoers.
From casual and contemporary, to formal and theatrical, each of The Lane’s spaces has its own charm. The uniquely appointed spaces occupy the original site and its adjacent buildings, including: the spacious and regal Grand Saloon, with seasonal outdoor terraces taking guests from afternoon tea to a lively bar; the relaxed all-day dining area, The Garden; a cocktail bar inspired and named after high society photographer and theatre costume designer Cecil Beaton and finally, the Rotunda bar with the magnificent ceiling inspired by the Pantheon in Rome.
The work on Theatre Royal Drury Lane saw relentless dedication and hard work from all involved, from carefully removing the old staging system to designing the perfect cocktail. This perseverance through many challenges and pitfalls, including a global pandemic, now means that generations to come will be able to experience the magic of The Lane.