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THE GHOSTS OF THE THEATRE ROYAL, DRURY LANE

Posted on: December 21, 2011

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Britain has more haunted theatres than you can shake a stick at.  Just about every town and city up and down the land has had (and if they’re lucky, still has) a haunted theatre.  It’s often intrigued people as to why theatres tend to be so particularly active on the supernatural front.  This has been attributed to the fact that the entire panoply of human emotion is usually played out within their walls, or that actors and perfomers tend to be highly-sensitive individuals who might be able to unwittingly tap into the cosmic ether, as it were.  Sometimes I’ve heard actors, when playing real people, claim that they have formed a kind of psychic link with that person, even if that person is long dead.  I’ve singled out the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, London, simply because it is often regarded as the most haunted of the haunted, where theatreland is concerned.

Arguably, the most legendary ghost is that of an 18th century dandy (complete with wig, tricorn hat and sword) who haunts the Dress Circle.  He has been seen by literally dozens of cleaners over the years, and a sighting of him is usually felt to be an omen of a good run for a show.  He is thought to be associated with a skeletan uncovered by workmen who were digging out a wall in a side passage in 1848.  The skeleton had a dagger embedded in its ribs.

Of similar vintage to him is the ghost of Charles Macklin.  Macklin was an Irish actor who stabbed a fellow actor, Thomas Hallam, in the eye with a cane over a dust-up over a wig (these theatricals!) in 1735.  He was said to have uttered the immortal words “Goddamn you for a blackguard, scrub, rascal!”  Macklin’s ghost has been seen in a corridor backstage.

Joseph Grimaldi was the grandfather of modern clowning.  In fact the anniversary of his death every year, at the beginning of February, is still venerated by clowns all over the world.  He is credited with inventing the classic pan-stick white clown make-up, and for many years clowns were traditionally referred to as “Joeys” in honour of him.  He was born in London in 1779, and his association with the Theatre Royal spanned many years.  When he died in 1837, he left a request that he be buried near the theatre.  Since then, his ghost has often been seen, sometimes sitting in the audience, smiling encouragement up at performers on the stage.  Occasionally performers have felt his presence on stage with them.  Some have spoken of feeling his hands guiding them to a more visible spot on stage, or even kicking them in the rear if they weren’t giving it their all!

Another ghost is that of professional pantomime dame, Dan Leno.  He was a much respected performer, but had a horribly troubled private life.  It is thought he may have contracted syphilis, which led to him going insane, and dying in an institution at the age of 43.  His ghost has been seen dozing on a couch in his old dressing-room, or sometimes as a dark shape slipping out of the door.

One of the most frequently seen ghosts is that of John Baldwin Buckstone, who worked here as an actor, playwright and manager from 1853-1877.  He numbered Charles Dickens amongst his friends.  His ghost has been seen many times, especially when comedies (his professional forte) are being performed.  He was sighted by veteran actor Sir Patrick Stewart, as he left the stage after a performance of ‘Waiting For Godot’ in 2009.  He said he saw the apparition of a man in a beige coat standing in the wings.  He has also been sighted by Donald Sinden once, as he was walking down the stairs from his dressing-room one evening.  The ghost was peering out of the window, and at first appeared so solid that Sinden thought it was his co-star Sir Ralph Richardson.

The sound of somebody rehearsing their lines has been heard coming from Dressing-Room No.1 (now the Manager’s office), which was once Buckstone’s dressing-room.  When anyone goes in to investigate though, there is no one there.  When ‘Most Haunted’ investigated the theatre a few years ago, they were shown a remarkably good photograph of a ghost peering round a pillar.  It is thought to be that of Buckstone.

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