One of the many wonderful things about London’s Theatreland is the history, the beautiful old theatres. Hundreds of famous performers had tread the boards there, hundreds and thousands of stories have been told there. Can you imagine what we could learn if only those walls could talk? But, if you are a believer in the supernatural, you will know that with a building’s age and history can come the spirits of those who have lived and possibly died there throughout the ages. For Halloween, I have decided to look at the scary stories that are a part of the history of the glittering West End.
Her Majesty’s Theatre
Currently home to The Phantom Of The Opera, Her Majesty’s Theatre is said to have it’s own phantom in the form of Sir Herbert Beerhohm Tree. A Victorian/Edwardian actor and manager, Beerbohm Tree actually used to own the theatre and lived there for a number of years. He is said to haunt the top box on stage right, where there have been a number of reports of the temperature suddenly dropping.
The Theatre Royal Haymarket
Victorian actor John Baldwin Buckstone is known to haunt the Theatre Royal Haymarket, where is directed and produced hundreds of family during his time. But don’t worry, he is known to be calm and friendly, having died peacefully at the good age of 77. He is known to be seen around the theatre, watching the plays and famous performers such as Patrick Stewart claim to have seen him. Stewart states that he saw the ghost of Buckstone on stage during the 2009 production of ‘Waiting For Godot’
The Lyceum Theatre
Recently a place of celebration of The Lion King celebrated it’s 20th anniversary in London, the Lyceum Theatre has it’s own rather creepy tale. A couple in the 1880’s were sat in the balcony enjoying a show when they peered over the railing down into the stalls below. There they claim to have seen a severed head of a man resting on a lady’s lap in the audience.
There are two theories to go with this story. One of them is that the lady was the spirit of Madame Tussaud holding one of her creations. Whilst Tussaud did once hold an exhibition in the theatre, the second theory may be more likely. The ex-owner of the theatre lost it all when he was arrested for treason, a crime that later saw him sentenced to death, by beheading.
Before we get onto the two most haunted (and rather creepy) theatre ghost stories, let’s take a moment to just focus on the odd ones.
The Victoria Palace Theatre is said to be haunted by a number of spirits and although none of them have actually been seen, there have been many reports of wigs moving on their own and dressing room doors mysteriously locking and unlocking on their own accord.
Over the years of the run of Les Miserables, there have been many reports from male members of the cast feeling as if they were being watched in their dressing rooms. Oddly enough, this feeling was particularly strong if any of the cast were changing in guard uniform.
Whilst the rest of the ghost stories on this blog are about ghosts of humans (or at least human heads), some stories that The Peacock Theatre is haunted by a dolphin… One of Paul Raymond’s most famous Naked Revues featured a dolphin in a tank on stage. Whilst no one knows for sure what happened to the dolphin when the show closed, with some stating that it died abandoned in the tank, a strange squeaking often heard in the theatre is said to be the dolphin making it’s presence known.
The Adelphi Theatre
In 1897, whilst appearing in a successful run of Secret Service at the Adelphi Theatre, actor and manager William Terris became a victim of jealously. An actor, who is said to have been in ensemble rushed Terris one night at the stage door in Maiden Lane behind the theatre. Terris was fatally stabbed. Allegedly, the injured actor was brought back into the building and onto the stage where he was comforted in his final moments by leading lady Jessica Milward. His last words were ‘I will be back’. The ghost of William Terris has been seen in Maiden lane, around the stage door, and knocking is often heard inside the theatre.
The Theatre Royal Drury Lane
Rumoured to be the most haunted theatre in the UK, The Theatre Royal Drury Lane has a lot of ghost stories but I will tell you about the three most famous ones.
Joseph Grimaldi was famed for his clown performances, of which many believe laid the foundations for pantomime. His incredibly physical act took a toll on his health and by 1818, he was no longer performing but he still loved to visit Drury Lane. Grimaldi died in 1837 and his spirit is said to haunt his beloved theatre. He is known to kick performers, ushers and cleaners. Before his death, he requested to be beheaded before burial and a number of people have reported seeing a floating clowns face in the wings, believed to be Grimaldi.
Dan Leno was another clown who loved to perform at the theatre Royal Drury Lane. When he was at the height of his career, Leno was reported to have gone mad and he died aged just 43 in 1903. During his lifetime, Leno suffered from incontinence and to mask his embarrassment and the smell, he wore a lot of lavender scented perfume. Now, although no one has reported to have seen him, people have stated that they have smelt lavender in the hallways and on the stairs. There have also been reports of a rhythmical drumming coming from the room that used to be Leno’s dressing room, rumored to be the spirit of the clown practicing his famous clog dancing routine.
The most famous ghost to haunt this theatre is ‘the man in gray’. A young man with a limp, dressed in a ruffled shirt, riding coat, powdered wig and a three cornered hat is said to be seen crossing the upper circle from one side to the other before disappearing through the wall. He has also been seen sitting in the fourth row off the upper circle. Even though no one know who he is, a grusome discovering during renovations in the 1870’s may explain him being there. Worker’s broke down the wall that the ghost was seen walking through and in a secret room behind it found a skeleton, surrounded by gray rags with a dagger in it’s rib cage. Although most may be scared to see him, performers in the theatre look out for him as it is believed that he only appears at the beginning of a successful run. He was apparently seen before the runs of ‘The King and I’, ‘South Pacific’ and ‘Oklahoma’ which were all very successful and the casts of Miss Saigon claim to have seen him every time there was a cast change. He is also known to push performers into the best positions where their lines can be best heard.
What do you think? Are you a believer or are all of these tales no more than fiction?