7 May: On this day in 1663… The Theatre Royal Drury Lane opened

On this day in… 1663

The Theatre Royal Drury Lane opened in London

Thomas Killigrew by Sir Anthony Van Dyck
Thomas Killigrew by Sir Anthony Van Dyck

The very first Theatre Royal Drury Lane was built by playwright Thomas Killigrew in 1663 under a Royal Charter granted to Killigrew in 1662 from King Charles II.

Originally called the Theatre Royal, Bridges Street, the theatre was a huge success but was unfortunately destroyed by fire on 25 January 1672.

Thomas Killigrew was granted Letters Patent by Charles II to set up an acting company, which became known as King’s Company. Alongside William Davenant’s Lincoln’s Inn Fields theatre, these were the only two licensed theatres in London.

We don’t know who designed the theatre but do know that it was a wooden structure built of three tiers and could seat about 700 people.

Famous London diarist Samuel Pepys was a regular theatregoer and attended the Theatre Royal the day after it opened. He missed the first day of opening, writing on 7 May 1663 that: “This day the new Theatre Royal begins to act with scenes the Humourous Lieutenant, but I have not time to see it”. But he did manage to see Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher’s The Humorous Lieutenant on 8 May, saying of the theatre that:”The house is made with extraordinary good contrivance, and yet hath some faults, as the narrowness of the passages in and out of the Pitt, and the distance from the stage to the boxes, which I am confident cannot hear; but for all other things it is well, only, above all, the musique being below, and most of it sounding under the very stage, there is no hearing of the bases at all, nor very well of the trebles, which sure must be mended.”


  • The Royal Charter granted to Killigrew in 1662 from King Charles II is still in existence – and is held by the Theatre Museum (part of the V&A).
  • There have been four theatres built on the site of the Theatre Royal Drury Lane – the present theatre was designed by Benjamin Wyatt and opened on 10 October 1812.
  • The third theatre on the site – which opened on 12 March 1794, was also destroyed by fire (on 24 February 1809).
  • Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is currently playing at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane (BOOK TICKETS)



Wikipedia – Theatre Royal Drury Lane
Really Useful Theatres
Arthur Lloyd
The Theatres Trust

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