In search of ghosts at Theatre Royal, Drury Lane

Last Updated on 28 October 2021 by Showcall Editorial Team

Mark Ludmon goes ghost-hunting on a tour of Theatre Royal, Drury Lane in London for Halloween

Theatre Royal Drury Lane
The Rotunda bar at Theatre Royal, Drury Lane

“Within these few hours, I have been seized with a terror of mind I never in my life felt before,” said the legendary 18th-century actor Charles Macklin while performing at the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane. His terror came from forgetting his lines for the first time – while playing Shylock in The Merchant of Venice at the age of 89 – prompting him to finally decide to retire from the stage. But it is a different kind of terror that is on the bill at Theatre Royal, Drury Lane right now, with a Halloween-inspired spooky twist on the theatre’s popular guided tours.

Macklin is among the ghosts said to haunt the Covent Garden theatre which was built in 1812 on a site that has been home to a theatre since 1663. Famed for his ability to remember the text of every play he’d performed in, Macklin’s invisible spirit supposedly whispers lines into the ears of modern-day actors who have suddenly dried on stage. But this prompting ghost is just one of many which has earned the building – now dubbed The Lane – the title of “the most haunted theatre in the world”.

Theatre Royal Drury Lane
A backstage tunnel beneath Theatre Royal, Drury Lane

While actual terror is in short supply on the ghost tour, it is a lot of fun and an entertaining way to explore the building and its wider history, especially after its spectacular, two-year £60million renovation. After some spirited cocktails in the new cocktail bar – called Cecil’s after photographer Cecil Beaton – we start out with tour guide, and writer, David Kerby-Kendall, and his sidekick, James, in the bar in the Rotunda, surrounded by the shadows of the statues of Shakespeare and other notable figures associated with Drury Lane. Roaming the massive building, the tour takes in the royals’ exclusive Retiring Room and the new-look auditorium as well as the backstage tunnels running underground.

Alongside Macklin, the cast of spectral characters said to wander the theatre include pioneering Regency clown Joseph Grimaldi and Victorian comedian Dan Leno as well as the most often seen ghoul, The Man in Grey. The ghost stories go right up to the present day, with a tale of an apparition during the run of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory just four years ago. And if you keep your eyes pealed, you may even see the odd ghost or two.

The Halloween-themed tours are available from 26 to 31 October 2021. Arrival time is 9.15pm and the tour ends at 10.45pm. Tickets are £25 per person, bookable at Usual tours are also available during the daytime from Wednesday to Sunday.

About Mark Ludmon 318 Articles
Mark Ludmon has been a journalist for over 20 years, specialising in theatre, hospitality and drinks after starting in regional daily newspapers. He has an MA in early modern literature and history, focusing on Elizabethan and Jacobean drama, and a theatre studies MA from Royal Central School of Speech & Drama. He is a former panellist for the Olivier Awards. He tweets at @MarkLudmon.