Theatre Royal, Drury Lane

Photo:Theatre Royal, Drury Lane

Theatre Royal, Drury Lane

Copyright Westminster City Archives

Photo:Bomb Map: Theatre Royal, Drury Lane

Bomb Map: Theatre Royal, Drury Lane

Copyright Westminster City Archives

The location of the Theatre Royal facing Catherine Street and backing onto Drury Lane

15 October 1940

By Tabatha Parker

When war broke out in September 1939, the Theatre Royal, on Drury Lane WC2, became the headquarters of ENSA (Entertainments National Service Association). This organisation was dedicated to entertaining allied troops with a variety of plays and revues. Dressing rooms were used as offices and the stage hosted rehearsals and auditions. Despite the constant threat of bombing from enemy aircraft, the Theatre was used by ENSA throughout the war.

The Theatre Royal (origins 1663, rebuilt 1812) became a victim of German bombing on 15 October 1940. A high explosive bomb hit the rear circle at around 11:55pm and caused a fire. Considerable damage was sustained to the circle all the way up to the pit. Debris fell into the Theatre stalls.

Theatre workers were asleep in the room where the bomb fell. Luckily, all escaped with minor injuries and there were no reported casualties elsewhere in the Theatre.

The Fire Brigade (AFS) was dispatched and the fire put out. The Theatre suffered minimal damage, a relief considering the Theatre Royal’s previous history of destruction by fire (in 1692 and 1809). 

On 19 December 1946, the Theatre Royal was restored and reopened. With Prince Littler as Managing Director, Noël Coward’s Pacific 1860 was the first post-war production.

This page was added by Tabatha Parker on 17/03/2011.

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