Theatreland Tour with Ian McKellen
Theatre Royal Drury Lane
So, stop outside the old Nell of Drury Lane. Turn back. Ah there, you’ve got a great view of the Theatre Royal Drury Lane. And the oddity is this street is not called Drury Lane at all. That’s at the back of the Theatre Royal.
I want you to go back to the 1790s, to the time when this theatre was managed by the Irish playwright Richard Sheridan.
Like John Philip Kemble, Sheridan witnessed his theatre burning to the ground. [fire atmos.] When he realised that there was no hope of fighting the flames, Sheridan retired to a nearby pub. [“Give me wine.” Tavern atmos.] He sat down by the window. He sipped his drink and watched the building turn to ash. Someone in the tavern commented on his calmness, and one of Sheridan’s friends remarked,
“A man may surely be allowed to take a glass of wine by his own fireside.”
When the theatre was rebuilt, it was turned around. So the back of the Theatre Royal is in Drury Lane, and the front that you’re looking at, is in Catherine Street.
Now let’s leave Sheridan to his drink and continue our journey. If you're facing the Theatre Royal, I need you to turn right. Got it? Good. And be sure to stick to the right hand side of the street.
That pub you were just standing outside is named after Nell Gwyn, one of the first female actors on a London stage. Before her, women’s parts had always been played by young boys with unbroken voices. It was King Charles II who allowed women to take to the stage for the first time.
Don’t miss the next right-hand turn. We’re turning into Tavistock Street.