Another spirit said to haunt the Drury Lane Theatre is that of Joseph Grimaldi, the most celebrated of English clowns. Grimaldi was born in Clare Market, near to the Aldwich, with an impeccable pedigree in the performing arts. His father was an Italian pantomime artist and ballet master and his mother a dancer.
When less than two years of age Joseph was introduced to the stage at Drury Lane. By the age of three he began to appear at Sadler’s Wells Theatre. He was seen as a great innovator whose physical dexterity as a clown was considered to be unsurpassable. He later introduced the pantomime dame to the theatre and became responsible for the tradition of audience participation.
Joseph was considered a genial man and extremely supportive of his fellow artists. He loved the theatre and, moreover, the ladies. Perhaps such devotion to the stage, and the odd nubile ballerina, has inhibited his passing over. His benevolent spirit is said to remain as a guardian to the living, watching over proceedings and intervening from time to time to assist many a troubled actress.
One of the most starling accounts of Joseph’s spectral intervention occurred during a run of the musical ‘Oklahoma!’. A young American comedienne was alone on the stage and having great difficulty in delivering her punch lines. The audience’s tepid reaction seriously undermined her confidence and caused her delivery to become increasingly ineffectual. No matter how hard she tried she failed to engender the anticipated response.
Then, during one performance of the show, she suddenly felt firm hands place themselves upon her shoulders and begin propelling her to a different part of the stage. The hands then gently repositioned the actress’s arms and readjusted the angle of her head. In that instant, as she delivered her lines, the audience responded with rapturous laughter.
The reassuring guidance of Joseph’s hands were to be felt again, some years later, when a young singer was auditioning for a production of ‘The King and I’. The young woman was called to the stage to perform her piece, yet found herself overcome by a sudden attack of the nerves. Unexpectedly she felt she felt an encouraging tap on her shoulder and the comforting touch of unseen hands begin guiding her to centre stage. Throughout the audition her hand was held by the strange ethereal force. The young singer felt no fear, only a comforting reassurance, which caused her to sing quite beautifully and so landed the prime role in the musical.