Drury Lane Theatre Royal

From: an entry by John Earl in The Theatres Trust Guide to British Theatres, 1750-1950 – a Gazetteer (2000)*:

*updated version of Curtains!!! (1982).

“Architecturally and historically this is one of the most important theatres in the world. No other site in Britain has a longer history of continuous theatre use. The right of the Lane to present dramatic entertainments dates from the Royal Patent (still in the possession of the theatre) granted by Charles II to Killigrew in 1662.

Drury Lane shares with Haymarket Theatre Royal the distinction of being entirely pre-Victorian in external appearance (the Lyceum has a pre-Victorian portico). As now seen, the main theatrical shell, the staircase, rotunda, saloon, etc., of 1811-12, are by B.D. Wyatt and comprise the only substantial Georgian theatre fabric in London. The entrance facade is the earliest now surviving in London on a working theatre. It is a pity that the portico of 1820 is so obviously an addition to Wyatt’s restrained but elegant neo-classical design, but Beazley’s side colonnade of 1831 is a worthy later adornment and a fine townscape feature, especially when viewed from Covent Garden Market.

The great staircase, rotunda and saloon are important late Georgian monuments in their own right and unparalleled in any British theatre for their splendour and sense of theatrical occasion. Inevitably, after the architectural promise of these public spaces, the comparatively modern (1922) auditorium disappoints, but only by contrast. It is of considerable quality and, from a theatrical viewpoint, remarkably successful and intimate. This is surprising when it is remembered that, in the 1920s, theatre architecture had no clear direction.

This is the last London auditorium to be designed in the rich fin-de-siecle manner established by Matcham, Sprague and Crewe (the Fortune is only two years later and belongs to a totally different era). It has some points of kinship with Manchester Opera House (1912) and, more so, Manchester Palace (1913). The style is Empire with a rectangular proscenium and a modelled elliptical tympanum over. The proscenium is separated from three tiers of curving balcony fronts by deep canted side walls containing three bays of boxes at three levels, framed by pilasters and columns of imitation lapis lazuli. They have gilt capitals carrying an entablature from which a flared and coffered elliptical-arched ceiling springs across to form a deep sounding board.

The stage is raked at the front, flat at the back, with an extensive counterweight system. Elaborate metal stage machinery with six bridges (two tilting), described in the Stage Year Book for 1910, survived the 1922 works but is not regularly used.

Drury Lane is, unlike almost every other West End theatre, generously planned, with a 39.6m (130ft) frontage and a depth of well over 92m (300ft). Within this area, the auditorium, stage and additional backstage areas are contained in a succession of approx. 24.4m (80ft) cubes. The vast backstage presents valuable opportunities for future improvements but could also constitute a temptation for non-theatrical development if the theatre ever fell into the hands of less well-disposed owners.

The antiquity of the theatre and its complex building history makes it important that all future works, especially at lower levels should be monitored for recordable evidence of earlier phases.”

Matthew Hemley reported for The Stage of 22.4.21:

“Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Theatre Royal Drury Lane has hosted its first live performance since undergoing a £60 million refurbishment, with an 81-piece orchestra recording suites from three of the composer’s biggest musicals.

Lloyd Webber described the move as a “momentous step forward” for the return of live music and theatre…

LW Theatres’ £60 million restoration of the Theatre Royal Drury Lane will see it reopen with an all-day hospitality and entertainment offering, with Disney’s Frozen set to officially reopen it later this year.”

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