Perhaps the most famous of Drury Lane’s phantoms is the ‘Man in Grey’ a silent form who appears as quintessence in the Upper Circle and perambulates the bar before disappearing through a wall. He is only active during hours of daylight so has been seen by hundreds of actors and patrons although not for many years. Who he is, nobody is quite sure but from his countenance he is clearly the epitome of English theatre. Dressed in ghostly period costume of an 18th Century riding cape, pert boots and a sheathed sword. The man in grey is ruggedly handsome with a powdered wig beneath a foppish tricorn. The identity of the Man in Grey is unknown but in a chilling development, during the late 1800s, workmen knocking a wall through made the grim discovery of a skeleton clad in decaying costume with a dagger thrust between its ribs.
Another nefarious crime committed in the theatre was by the hand of one of the stage’s biggest stars of the day. In 1735 the actor Charles Macklin slew fellow thespian Thomas Hallam: the culmination of an argument about a wig. Macklin drove a cane through Hallam’s left eye into his brain instantly killing him. As he took Hallam’s life, Macklin delivered the line: “God damn you for a blackguard scrub rascal”. Macklin was not a handsome man; tall, lanky and unbeautiful but still hugely popular and, although the murder was witnessed, he got away with it and was sentenced not to death but only branding which was never carried out anyway. Macklin lived to be 107 but after his death a new ghost began to appear, an ugly, tall, thin ghost who frequents the theatre’s pit.
During his life Joe Grimaldi was a genial man and accomplished actor who had an eye for the ladies and plenty of time to help aspiring actors. He appeared on stage here many times however, he didn’t want to shuffle off his mortal coil, yearning to stay in the limelight and the adoration of theatre fans so decided to become a poltergeist. During the run of Oklahoma! an inexperienced actress was alone on stage in front of a packed house however the laughter greeting her punchlines had been disappointing. During one performance she felt a pair of firm hands on her shoulders which propelled her to a different part of the stage, the hands then gently repositioned the actress’s arms and adjusted the angle of her head, while this happened she delivered her lines to rapturous laughter. After the show she reported her experience but nobody in the cast, crew or audience had seen anyone but her on stage. Grimaldi’s comforting hands were felt again years later by a novice singer auditioning on stage for The King and I. As she stepped onto the stage the nervous girl felt a friendly pat on the shoulder and a phantom hand clasped her elbow and led her to the front. All through her audition her hand was held firmly by an eerie, disembodied force, despite the spooky guidance the girl sang beautifully. The story has a happy ending: she landed the role thanks to Joe Grimaldi’s calming influence.