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Drury Lane Theatre

Patrick O'Brian. The Theatrical steel-yards of 1750. Engraving, 1751.

P. Begbie. View of the new front ... to the Theatre Royal Drury Lane. Engraving, 1776

History of the English stage, Garrick and his contemporaries. Manuscript, compiled ca. 1875

The Licencing Act of 1737 ensured that only Drury Lane and Covent Garden, the two “Theatres Royal,” could regularly produce plays. The caricature seen here refers to a pivotal moment in the ongoing rivalry between Drury Lane and Covent Garden. During his first few years managing Drury Lane, Garrick was content to let John Rich continue Covent Garden’s virtual monopoly on expensive, elaborate, crowd-pleasing pantomimes. Then on Boxing Day, 1750, Garrick risked a direct challenge with Queen Mab, a new pantomime by Henry Woodward. As the caricature shows, the risk paid off, with Garrick easily outweighing the talents of Rich’s Covent Garden (Peg Woffington, Spranger BarryJames Quin and Susannah Cibber). Henry Woodward, in his harlequin costume, holds up “Queen Mab.”

No pictures of Drury Lane in Garrick’s early years of managment are known to exist. That theater was built in 1674, with a capacity of about 2,000. These images show Drury Lane after Robert Adam modernized the building for Garrick in 1775. The renovation brought capacity to about 2,300, and added a fashionable neo-classical facade.

Garrick’s theater was the second of that name, the first having burned down in 1672. The renovated theater was completely replaced in 1794. The current Drury Lane is an 1812 replacement of the 1794 building.

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  Additional Information

Licensing Act: legislation passed in 1737 restricting performances to licensed theaters only, and requiring that scripts be pre-approved by the Lord Chamberlain. With the ability to comment directly on sensitive social and political issues thus curtailed, productions became tamer, or at least, more subtle. Censorship by the office of the Lord Chamberlain survived until 1968.


Covent Garden: Known now and since 1891 as the Royal Opera House, this theater opened in 1732 as Theatre Royal, Covent Garden, and from 1847 to 1891 was called the Royal Italian Opera.

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