Where? Theatre Royal Drury Lane, Catherine Street, London, WC2B 5JF
When? These tours run regularly and you can check times on their website
What was on? Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
How? You can book on their website or give the box office a call
Cost? Adults £10.50, children, seniors and groups of 10+ £8.50
Duration? About an hour
There has been a theatre on the site of the current Theatre Royal Drury Lane for over 300 years and this terrific tour, led by a friendly and knowledgeable guide, gives you a taste of it’s colourful history. It’s been a major player in how theatre developed in this country and it has countless wonderful stories to tell. Truth really is stranger than fiction!
I went on a Monday at 2.15pm, not in the holidays, and because it was a quiet time I had a guide all to myself which was a great experience. The flip side is that if you come at a busier time, your tour might be presented by the guide as a character from the theatre’s history which I imagine must be great fun.
The Theatre Royal is a beautiful building, and although I haven’t been to see current hit Charlie and the Chocolate Factory yet, I’ve attended several times over the years but this tour took me to plenty of spaces I’d never been before, from the splendid royal box and retiring rooms to the distinctly less gilded but equally fascinating back-of-house areas.
Possibly one of the biggest surprises is a tunnel running through the bowels of the theatre that dates back to the oldest theatre on this site, complete with a little display of bones and other excavated items! Unbelievably this once linked the theatre to several other sites including a tavern and the riverside. Gives you a bit of a creepy feeling!
You also hear about some of the grey-cloaked, lavender wafting, backside kicking (really!) ghosts that haunt this theatre. They’ve got more than Hogwarts and these are proper bona-fide ghosts seen by many people over the years. None made an appearance during my visit but this building really does have an atmosphere – you can feel it’s steeped in history.
But this building is, of course, also a busy working theatre. We followed maze-like passages through stage management areas past dressing rooms and props, to the huge space under the stage where I was lucky enough to spot the famous great glass elevator from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory nestled amongst the immense sub-stage machinery . It’s incredible how this historical building is home to this 21st century production. The building is also home to offices for the Really Useful Group, who now own the theatre, and a design school and studio where backdrops are still traditionally painted – although few make it into this particular theatre where the scenic design tends to be a bit more digital!
Verdict: Any theatre lover, or even someone with a general interest in London’s theatre history would have a great time on this tour. It was also a treat to get a glimpse of how the theatre operates as a working building today. I thoroughly enjoyed my tour and highly recommend it!
For more information visit the Backstage Theatre Tours website