There are many theatres in England that are said to haunted by Grey Ladies, including the Theatre Royal in Bath, the Theatre Royal in York and Brighton’s own Theatre Royal.
The first theatre in Brighton was little more than a barn to the North of Castle Square, which opened in 1764. Although a popular attraction its use as a theatre was seasonal, for each harvest time it was required to revert back to its conventional use. Nonetheless, it remained a theatre for six years, finally closing its doors in 1770. Four years later another theatre emerged in North Street but closed in 1789. New premises were then found in Duke Street, which operated until 1806.
By this time Brighton had become popularised by the Prince Regent (later King George IV) who had become a patron. The theatre subsequently came to be known as the Theatre Royal. Once the new theatre was built on New Road in 1822, the name continued.
The Grey Lady was reported in 1960 in the backstage area by the theatre’s then manager, Melville Gilliam, although other sightings had preceded that date. She was again sighted some ten years later by another manager, Mr. Jack Keates, in Number 1 dressing room. Keates felt that the glamorous looking spirit of a woman resembled that of the French actress Sarah Bernhardt, who had performed at the theatre on several occasions in 1894. However, there is no suggestion that the actress developed a sentimental attachment to the Theatre Royal, which therefore throws doubt on this suggestion. Further sightings seem to indicate that the spirit could well be that of Mrs. Nye Chart, a former manager and actress who, along with her husband, ran the theatre from 1867 until 1892.
Although there have been other sightings of the Grey Lady in Number 1 dressing room, she has made subsequent appearances in other parts of the building. In 1976 the apparition of a woman wearing a grey chiffon dress appeared in the otherwise empty bar close to the theatre’s entrance. Joy Merta, who at that time ran the bar, described the woman in grey as, “A very gentle lady who was in no way frightening, but before I could say anything, with a sweet smile she vanished.”
The Grey Lady was to make yet another starling appearance in August 1982. Anne Flood, who was acting as wardrobe mistress at that time, was busy in the theatre’s laundry room when she heard the persistent sound of a door banging. The noise became so incessant and annoying that she set off down the corridor to close it. Her efforts to push the door shut were resisted by something on the other side. Eventually she was able to open the door more fully only to be confronted by a vague form of a woman in grey wearing veiling over her head. Unable to move she stood transfixed by the colourless apparition, which suddenly drifted past her and left the room. Mrs. Flood later described the incident to the press: “I had the immediate feeling it was a dead person. She had silvery hair and a commanding presence. She was visible for about a minute.”
Further appearances were to follow throughout the 1980’s when two sound and lighting technicians were busy working throughout the night to prepare things for the forthcoming production. Both of the technicians were unaware of the theatre’s ghost at the time. Around four in the morning one of the men became distracted by the sight of a woman in grey up in the gods. He watched in disbelief as she got up and disappeared behind some curtains leading to the bar area. He decided not to tell his workmate of the incident should he think he was imagining things. It wasn’t until later on, when chatting, that his friend admitted to seeing the woman in grey as well.
It also seems that the Grey Lady may have taken a liking to the entertainer Danny La Rue’s wigs. Mr. La Rue had been appearing at the theatre in the mid-1980s. One day, after arriving at his dressing room, prior to the evening’s performance, he noted that his wigs had all been moved from where he had left them. He was always meticulous about his wigs and stage costumes and had, therefore, ensured that the dressing room was locked.
Danny La Rue later explained: “The way the wigs had been left seemed to indicate someone has been trying them on. I don’t know if the theatre’s Grey Lady was responsible. I like to be open-minded about these things, though I once had an odd experience when I was appearing at the Theatre Royal in Bath, which is also said to have a ghost. While there one evening, I felt a forcible tap on my shoulder, but on turning I found nobody there.”
There have been countless other sightings of the Grey Lady down the years. Even those who have not come upon her have frequently admitted that there is an eerie feeling when walking through the theatre alone after dark.