Drury Lane

Definition

Theater

  • The shortened name for the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, the oldestand most famous of London's theaters. The thoroughfare itself takesits name from Drury house, built in the time of Henry VIII by SirWilliam Drury. Drury Lane and Covent Garden are Britain's only patenttheaters, Drury Lane's charter having been granted in 1662 byCharles II.

    The original theater was opened by Thomas Killigrewin 1663, the first performance being Beaumont and Fletcher's TheHumorous Lieutenant. Nell Gwynn made her debut there in 1665.It burned down in 1672 and was rebuilt to a design by Sir ChristopherWren, reopening in 1674 with John Dryden as resident playwright.

    In 1682 Thomas Betterton's company occupied DruryLane but poor management by Christopher Rich provoked a moveto Lincoln's Inn Fields in 1695. Stability was achieved from 1711onwards under the triumvirate of Colley Cibber, Thomas Doggett,and Robert Wilkes. David Garrick took over in 1746 to managewith distinction for 30 years. In 1775 Robert Adam renovated the interiorand two years later R. B. Sheridan became manager and stagedthe premiere of his own The School for Scandal. Sarah Siddonsand her brother John Kemble became stars there in the 1780s.

    The third Drury Lane, seating 3611, opened in 1794 with aconcert. One memorable first night was that of Pizarro, adaptedby Sheridan from the German, in 1799. Sheridan was so behindhand withhis translation that the actors, who included Siddons, Kemble, andJohn Barrymore, were obliged to perform the fourth act as Sheridansat upstairs completing the fifth. They then had to attempt to memorizethe new dialogue. The play did not finish until midnight; only 39members of the exhausted audience remained for the farce that followed.

    Sheridan was virtually ruined when the theater burned downagain in 1809. The fourth building was opened in 1812 with a prologueby Lord Byron; gas lighting was installed in 1817. Although successfulseasons were given by Edmund Kean and William Macready,Drury Lane declined under the management of the egregious 'Poet' Bunnin the 1830s and the patent monopoly was abolished in 1843.In 1878 F. B. Chatterton closed the theater lamenting "Shakespearespells ruin, and Byron bankruptcy." It reopened in 1879 underAugustus Harris, who enjoyed success with melodramas and an annualpantomime starring Dan Leno.

    Henry Irving appeared at Drury Lane from 1903 untilhis last London season in 1905. He was known for attaching flintsto swords to create flying sparks. When electricity arrived, he wiredup the weapons, and during one performance Romeo and Tybalt turnedinto livewires to the audience's enthusiastic cheers. Thereafter Irvinginsulated the weapons with rubber handles.

    In the 1930s the theater staged a series of musicals by IvorNovello. It became the headquarters of ENSA during WorldWar II and survived a bombing in 1940. After the war, it presenteda string of successful Broadway musicals: Oklahoma! (1947),South Pacific (1951), The King and I (1953), My FairLady (1958), which ran for 2281 performances, A chorus Line(1976), and 42nd Street (1984). The run of hit musicals hascontinued with Miss Saigon (1989), which ran for a decade, andMel Brooks's The Producers, which played from 2004 to 2007. A £12.5million adaptation of Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings opened in 2007 and ran for some 14 months, when it was succeeded by the Cameron Mackintosh revival of Oliver! (still running in 2010). see also ghosts.

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