The famous ghosts of theatreland. 30 October 2015 Beware these spirits in the stalls

With Halloween imminent, we thought we'd mark the annual fright-fest by rounding up some of the West End's most notorious ghosts, from Dan Leno to Tommy Cooper.

Theatre Royal, Drury Lane - various

A story goes that in the recent past a photograph was taken front of house at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane and, when it was developed, there was a ghostly figure clearly viewable in the background of the shot. The visage could have been any one of a cast of ghosts haunting the wings here - notably those of famed panto dame Dan Leno (pictured) and legendary clown Joseph Grimaldi, alongside Restoration actress Nell Gwynne and the mysterious Man in Grey. As Charlie and the Chocolate Factory star Nigel Planer wrote after completing a ghost tour in 2013: "Drury Lane is the oldest and most haunted theatre in London. In fact, some say it is the most haunted building in the world." 

Adelphi Theatre - William Terriss

Victorian star Terriss was murdered at the stage door of the Adelphi in 1897 by a jealous out-of-work actor. Whilst dying in his lover Jessie Millward’s arms, he uttered the shuddering words "I'll be back". And, according to many who’ve worked at the theatre, he’s been true to his word, knocking regularly on the door of Millward’s former dressing room and regularly popping along to nearby Covent Garden station - the former location of his favourite baker’s shop - to give the commuters a fright.

Piccadilly Theatre - Evelyn 'Boo' Laye

One of the most recent ghosts on the block is Evelyn Laye, an actress who only died in 1996. Among her many credits in the West End was the lead in the Piccadilly’s inaugural play Blue Eyes, and her connection with the theatre’s history is such that her portrait hangs in the stalls bar. When the picture was moved a few years back, there was a notable increase in ‘paranormal activity’, so it was swiftly returned. According to the theatre's official website: “Her presence has been felt by staff and actors working in the building, showing itself as an unsettling pushing force on the victim.”

Garrick Theatre - Arthur Bourchier

Bourchier was an actor-manager at the Garrick during the early part of the 20th century, and now hangs out on the notorious ‘phantom staircase’ which leads to the roof of the theatre. One witness to a sighting recalled him wearing a long cloak and a tall, wide-brimmed hat, whilst “looking down as if deep in thought”. His favourite activity is tapping actors on the shoulder, or prompting them to the stage in a mysterious voice. Recent resident Kenneth Branagh had better watch out.

Dominion Theatre - Eleanor Cooper

The ghost of a teenage 'beer flood' victim reportedly haunts this Tottenham Court Road theatre which is built on the site of a former brewery where the tragedy occurred in 1814. A million pints-worth of beer drowned eight victims, including 14-year-old Eleanor, when over 3,500 barrels burst at once. She was recently snapped in a stalls 'selfie' taken by two audience members - you can view it here (if you dare…).

Her Majesty's Theatre - Herbert Beerbohm Tree

The home of The Phantom of the Opera has a phantom of its own in residence, that of famed Victorian Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree, the venue's inaugural actor-manager. He's been sighted watching productions from a box, the back of the stalls and the wings. He also has company in the form of the ghost of one-liner legend Tommy Cooper, who died on stage while recording Live From Her Majesty's in 1984, and has allegedly been trying to complete his act ever since.

Some further reading:

Inside the world's most haunted theatre (Guardian)


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