Today the new Theatre Royal in Drury Lane, which had been rebuilt just 15 years earlier at a cost of £80,000, burnt to the ground.
The old theatre had been demolished in 1791, with the company which included such luminaries as Sarah Siddons, John Philip Kemble, Dora Jordan and Eliza Farren, relocating temporarily to the Haymarket.
The theatre had been reborn as a vast “wilderness of a place” accommodating more than 3600 spectators. Problems arose when the actors on stage could no longer be heard in the cavernous space. Productions gave way to more and more elaborate spectacle on stage to compensate for the loss of connection between actor and audience which had been such a key feature of theatre at that time.
Productions became more and more expensive and increased ticket sales failed to cover the costs. The playwright Richard Brindsley Sheridan who owned and managed the theatre was already heavily in debt and when this massive building burned down in 1809, Sheridan was ruined.
He was famously reported to have been found sipping wine outside the burning wreckage and quoted to say “A man may surely be allowed to take a glass of wine by his own fireside.”