Theatre Royal Drury Lane Opens
The opening of what was initially called The Theatre Royal in Bridges Street (its entrance being on that street, now Catherine Street) or The King’s Playhouse (as the company was The King’s Company) was a moment of some significance for English drama and indeed society. It showed that the drama, banned as frivolous and ungodly during Cromwell ’s rule, was perhaps more solidly established than ever before. And the very design of the theatre – with proscenium arch, wings, movable scenery and tiered seating – was a radical shift from the old Elizabethan model, though there was still a projecting stage.
Drury Lane’s driving force was Thomas Killigrew, whose own dramas featured, though better remembered are the works of John Dryden and Aphra Behn that he and his company, named in honour of patron Charles II , performed - Charles incidentally first came across Nell Gwynn at the theatre. Regular royal attendance was a further sign of the growing legitimacy of theatrical performance in Britain. Solid civil servant Samuel Pepys was also a frequent visitor.
Killigrew was an ineffectual manager, but the theatre saw far greater men in charge in its subsequent incarnations (the 1663 version only lasting until 1672 when it was destroyed by fire), these including Richard Brinsley Sheridan and David Garrick . The Theatre Royal Drury Lane is the oldest theatre in London, and though much and often altered, it remains a link with our literary history.
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