The Theatre Royal in Drury Lane is located in the Covent Garden district of London, England facing Catherine Street. It earned the reputation of being the most haunted theatre in all of England. Originally built in 1663 by Thomas Killigrew on Drury Lane, it is the oldest London theatre still in operation. Nell Gwynne, actress and King Charles II’s mistress, made her stage debut there in 1665. The building was destroyed by fire in 1809. Benjamin Wyatt had the current structure built in 1812.
There are several ghosts reported. The most famous of which is the “Man in Gray.” He appears in full costume wearing a tri-cornered hat, a powdered wig and a long gray cloak with the hilt of a sword protruding from it. He always appears in the daytime to actors during rehearsals. J. Wentworth Day, a ghost hunter, reported seeing a moving blue light in the theatre in 1939. He is thought to be a residual haunting as he is always seen in the same place, walking quietly in the same direction. His ghostly visitations are thought to be a good omen. It is said, that the plays performed after his appearance always do well at the box office. Legend says that the “Man in Gray” is the ghost of a man whose skeletal remains were found in 1848. A knife had penetrated his long gray cloak and was still embedded in his rib cage.
Another ghost is also reported at the theatre. Described as “tall, thin, and ugly,” it is thought to be the ghost of a bad tempered actor named Charles Macklin. In 1735, Charles killed his fellow actor Thomas Hallam in an argument over a wig. “Goddamn you for a blackguard, scrub, rascal!” he shouted as he thrust his cane through Hallam’s left eye into his brain. Macklin appears backstage, wandering the corridor where the murder took
The ghost of comedian Joe Grimaldi is a helpful apparition that is often felt rather than seen. “He performed often at Drury Lane and gave his farewell performance there.” He is said to guide nervous actors gently about the stage. In 1948, a young American actress named Betty Jo Jones was performing badly during a run of “Oklahoma.” Then, as she describes it, she felt “invisible hands” guiding her into a different position on the stage. They continued to guide her around the stage during the rest of the performance. Her performance was later described as flawless. Also seen on stage during the extremely successful run were the ghosts of King Charles II and a crowd of his attendants. Another young actress named Doreen Duke felt the same invisible hands while trying out for a part in “The King and I.” She got the part, hands down. She believed that the ghost of Joe Grimaldi was her helpful guide.
Comedian Stanley Lupino was in his dressing room putting on his makeup. While looking in the mirror, along with his own reflection, he saw another face looking back at him. It was the face of Dan Leno, another comedian who had died recently. Lupino was told that he “was using Leno’s favorite dressing room.”
A woman in the audience saw what must have been a ghost, intently watching the play that was being performed. She said, “It was a man wearing old-fashioned clothes sitting at the end of the row where I was sitting. When the lights went up, the man was gone.” Sometime later, when she was looking through a book on the history of the theatre she saw a picture of Charles Kean, an actor from the 19th century. She identified him as the ghost that she had seen earlier.