What Is Allegedly The World's Most Haunted Theater?

The world is rife with stories of haunted theatrical venues. Every corner of the globe has a theater or opera house that has earned a reputation for being home to performers not yet ready for their final curtain call, or of patrons not quite willing to leave a venue that brought them so much joy while they were alive. Whether it's Wellington, New Zealand's Saint James Theatre, the Huguan Huiguan Opera House in Beijing, China, or the Ford Center for the Performing Arts in Chicago, haunted entertainment venues have both fascinated and terrified cast, crew, and audience members for generations. Paranormal investigators love these places, perhaps due to their being full of the storied history that in some instances goes back centuries.

One theater has the distinction of being labeled the most haunted in history, however. Reports of multiple spectators that stalk cast and crew backstage, unexplained movements of solid objects, electrical interference, and disembodied voices are only part of what makes a theater in London's West End reportedly the most haunted. No matter your level of belief in the paranormal, you'll probably find some of the eyewitness accounts at the Drury Lane Theatre a bit unsettling, if not downright terrifying.

Drury Lane isn't the first theater constructed on this site

While the building that houses the Drury Lane Theatre first opened its doors in 1812 for a production of "Hamlet," it was erected on grounds that hosted multiple other theaters. Beginning with the construction of the King's Theater in the mid-17th century, the site has had stage productions since 1663 (per Regency History). After this original building burned in 1672, the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane was opened to take its place. A new owner had the building razed in 1791 in order to make room for a larger venue. 

This third theater opened in 1794 as Sheridan's Theatre. It was a grand building, complete with royal boxes, modern green rooms, and a much larger stage than its predecessor. Its capacity was near 4,000, dwarfing that of the one recently torn down. But like the first theater erected on the grounds, Sheridan's Theatre met an untimely and tragic end. In spite of precautions taken to make it less prone to fires, the theater burned in 1809. Several years later, the theater known as Drury Lane was open.

With so much history on site, it's no wonder that there have been countless reports of paranormal activity over the years at Drury Lane. But who are these ghosts who stalk this landmark?

The Man in Gray

The most famous of all the spirits housed at Drury Lane is the Man in Gray. Countless actors, crew, and theater attendees have reported seeing this eerie specter over the years. His attire appears to be from the 18th century. He's always seen in a long gray cloak and wears a tricorn hat that sits atop a wig.

Seeing his ghost in the audience during final rehearsals is said to be a good sign. Those who have reported this unknown ghost prior to a show's first performance have noted that the show was successful. Some cast and crew look toward the audience prior to the curtain rising to see if this good omen is among the crowd (per Mysterious Universe). Even more helpful, it's also been said that the Man in Gray will shush noisy members of the audience during a performance, if necessary. 

Who he is has never been verified. But when Drury Lane was being renovated in the 1840s, workers discovered the skeletal remains of a man that had been concealed behind one of the walls. He had been murdered with a knife. Little else was found, as the remains were too far past their prime to be identified at the time. But one thing that did survive time behind the walls was the man's clothing. He was dressed in gray when he was killed. 

The Ghost of George Wild Galvin

Not every spirit can be as helpful as the Man in Gray. Actors who have worked the Drury Lane stage have long discussed the presence of a mischievous performer from yesteryear that still makes himself known more than 100 years after his death. 

Born George Wild Galvin, the actor known as Dan Leno was one of the more popular comedic performers of his era. He began his career as a clogger in his family's stage show before graduating to theatrical comedy. Sadly, his career was cut short when he died at the age of 43 in 1904. He had suffered a mental breakdown two years before, and it's surmised that he succumbed to a brain tumor (per The Dan Leno Project). 

Whatever ailed him near the end of his life didn't carry over any hostility after his death. Galvin's spirit can still be seen clogging throughout various parts of Drury Lane (via Mysterious Universe) and makes himself known as one of the ornerier presences in the building. Actors have reported having been shoved offstage by Galvin, and others claim to have seen the actor knocking on dressing room doors with his walking stick. It's said that anytime you smell lavender that Galvin's spirit is close by.

Other apparitions and paranormal activity

Drury Lane has more than just a couple of resident ghosts that have been seen over the years. Mysterious Universe talks of how an actor dead since 1837 has been seen multiple times by some actors that, quite honestly, may have been the better for witnessing his apparition. Joe Grimaldi, known as the inventor of modern pantomime, played a clown on stage for much of his career in theater. But he is known in death as more of a helping hand for performers than he is for generating laughter. His spirit has gained a reputation as one that has assisted several actors, one of which claimed guided her body and helped her deliver her lines during a performance of "Oklahoma!" (via Ghost Walk of the Lanes). 

Many of the paranormal occurrences at Drury Lane aren't attributed to a single spirit, however. There have been multiple reports of wigs and other items in dressing rooms seeming to float in mid-air, complaints that someone is pulling on their pant legs, and eerie accounts of disembodied voices calling out actors' names from places deep within the theater.

Modern disturbances

The paranormal activity that has been witnessed by the production cast and crew isn't beholden to the past. There have been some reports of spooky occurrences involving very recent productions at Drury Lane. One of the more talked-about ones involved Clive Carter (above), an actor who had a firsthand experience with what could be otherworldly entities.

Carter had just been cast as Mr. Salt in a production of "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory." The Guardian reports that the veteran actor was backstage in his dressing room when another actor entered just as Carter was putting on his makeup. The two were having a conversation about the haunted history of Drury Lane when they witnessed the television beginning to change channels. Shocked, the two actors watched in silence before resuming their conversation. The moment the hauntings were brought back up, the television resumed changing channels on its own accord. Or was it a ghostly hand? Carter was insistent that it wasn't an electrical malfunction and discussed a separate occasion when his bluetooth went haywire while backstage.

One thing is for certain. Whatever has been causing disturbances at Drury Lane over the years isn't showing any signs of letting up anytime soon.