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The story so far…

For more than 350 years, the Theatre Royal Drury Lane has hosted iconic premieres, show-stopping productions and has experienced its own dramas – both on and off stage.

These are just some of our stories of innovation and revival.

Nell Gwynne
1650 ― 1687

Nell Gwynne

Covent Garden orange seller-turned actress, Nell Gwynne made her stage debut at Theatre Royal Drury Lane, aged just 15. She not only delighted crowds, but enchanted royalty, becoming the longstanding mistress of King Charles II with whom she had two sons. His deathbed wish, to “Let not poor Nelly starve”, was honoured by James II.

1796

The Baddeley Cake

What was once a man’s dying wish has become a tradition, upheld for over 200 years. An actor who performed at Theatre Royal Drury Lane, Robert Baddeley, left £100 in his will dedicated to wine, punch, and a Twelfth Night cake for the cast to enjoy that year. Since then, the Baddeley cake has been a long-running custom, with the latest (for now) being for the cast of 42nd Street in 2019.

The Baddeley Cake
The Modern Theatre
1812

The Modern Theatre

Courtier Thomas Killigrew built the first of four theatres on this site in 1663, having received a patent from King Charles II. Nicknamed the “King’s Playhouse”, it was destroyed by fire in 1672. The second theatre was demolished and the third theatre burnt down, despite it being the first to have a safety curtain. This fourth theatre, designed by Benjamin Dean Wyatt, opened in 1812.

Dan Leno
1860 ― 1904

Dan Leno

Dan Leno was a comedian and world champion clog dancer who earned the soubriquet of “The King’s Jester” after performing for Edward VII at Sandringham. Theatre Royal Drury Lane was the home of the Victorian spectacular pantomime and Leno appeared in 15 consecutive productions from 1888. Remembered for the comedy and pathos he brought to the role of the dame, including Mother Goose a character that was first created for him. His ghost is reputed to haunt the backstage areas with comedian Stanley Lupino recording in his diaries how he was inspired on seeing the great man appear in his dressing room mirror.

1899 ― 1973

Noel Coward

Noel Coward was a highly acclaimed and successful screenwriter, director, actor and playwright, to name a few of his many talents. He chose Theatre Royal Drury Lane to host two of his most famous productions, Cavalcade in 1931 and Pacific 1860 in 1946. Cavalcade was a massive spectacle requiring 400 cast members, two new stage lifts and 22 scene changes.

Noel Coward
Crest of the Wave
1899 ― 1973

Crest of the Wave

In his 1937 production of Crest of the Wave, composer and performer Ivor Novello played two roles: the hero and the villain. He is rumoured to have received 5000 good luck telegrams on the first night. His other productions, Careless Rapture and Glamorous Night, were noted for their incredible on-stage recreations including the steam fair at Hampstead Heath and a sinking ocean-going liner.

1904 ― 1980

Sir Cecil Beaton

Sir Cecil Beaton was one of the most celebrated British portrait photographers of the twentieth century, renowned for his images of elegance, glamour and style. He also created the Academy Award-winning costumes for Lerner and Loewe’s My Fair Lady, which opened at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane in 1958. It was rumoured to have been the most expensive production ever staged in the West End. He went on to win the Academy Award for Best Costume design for two Lerner and Loewe films, Gigi (1958) and My Fair Lady (1965).

Sir Cecil Beaton
My Fair Lady
1958

My Fair Lady

My Fair Lady opened at Theatre Royal Drury Lane in April 1958. Rex Harrison and Julie Andrews reprised their Broadway roles at one of the biggest nights in West End history. The show sold out months in advance, with tickets selling on the black market at five times the face value. At the time, it became the theatre’s longest running musical, with 2,281 performances over five and a half years.

2019 ― 2021

The Restoration

Theatre Royal Drury Lane underwent a £60 million renovation project, having closed its doors in 2019. Under the lead of LW Theatres, owned by Andrew Lloyd Webber, the unique architecture of this Grade 1 Regency building has been restored to its former 1812 glory. Open to the public all day, the newly restored Theatre Royal Drury Lane, affectionately known as The Lane, is reimagined as a destination for entertainment, food, bars, art and culture, so the iconic interiors can be enjoyed by everyone not just theatregoers in the heart of London’s Covent Garden.

Restoration project interior graphic 1Restoration project interior graphic 2

Theatre
Tours

Tours run

Wed & Fri – 10:30am, 12pm, 2:30pm
Thu & Sat – 10:30am, 12pm
Sun – 10:30am

Guided tours are in English and last approximately 1 hour. There are 20 spaces available per tour. Sometimes we'll need to change the route due to other events taking place in the building.

Please note this is a walking tour with numerous steps and backstage areas, we recommend wearing comfortable shoes.

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Planning Your Visit

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