Drama and passion sweep across any stage where live theater is performed on a nightly basis but in London, some acting spirits linger long after the last curtain call. In a city where Jack the Ripper is a cottage industry and, how could haunted spirits not manifest themselves?
The most haunted theater in London is said to be the Theater Royal Drury Lane (Catherine Street, Covent Garden). Today’s structure dates back to 1812 but there has been a theater on the site since 1663. Several ghosts are said to inhabit the theater including the famous pantomime Joseph Grimaldi and a mysterious man in grey. Architects discovered the bones of a man during a renovation in the 1840s in the Upper Circle. Today, it’s believed that when that man in grey appears, he brings good luck to a new show.
And what would ghosts be without a little spice in the night? The spirit of well-known Victorian actor William Terriss can be heard knocking on the dressing room door of his lover, actress Jessica Millward at The Adelphi Theater (The Strand). Terriss died in Millward’s arms after being fatally stabbed at the stage door by a crazed, out-of-work actor.
Drowning in a flood of beer claimed eight lives back in 1814 on the site of what is today’s Dominion Theater on Tottenham Court Road. It used to be an old brewery and when more than 3500 barrels burst, buildings came crashing down, killing eight people. The ghost of a 14-year-old bar maid, Eleanor Cooper can be heard crashing about, giggling as people jump and bump from her silly spirit.
Personally, I didn’t know what to expect when I went to one of the longest running shows in the London theater. The Woman in Black has been staged at the Fortune Theater (Russell Street) for the past 25 years. I heard an unhappy spirit was known to rattle guests from their seats and slam doors. Could it be hype? I wondered. I sat through the first act with barely a goose-bump. Yet, after speaking with an usher during intermission, I was convinced that a spirit haunted this London theater. Jumping from my seat was an understatement during Act Two. Be afraid, be very, very afraid.