With Halloween around the corner, we take a look at the ghosts rumoured to haunt our theatres.

Avaunt! and quit my sight! let the earth hide thee!
Thy bones are marrowless, thy blood is cold;
Thou hast no speculation in those eyes
Which thou dost glare with!

Macbeth, Act 3 Scene 4


The Ghost of Banquo in Macbeth is one of Shakespeare’s most horrifying visitors from the afterlife. As Macbeth opens our 2018 season in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, we take a look at two of the ghosts rumoured to haunt our buildings.

The Perfumed Lady

Staff and visitors have both spoken of the Perfumed Lady, often smelled in the upper circle of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. Her old-fashioned flowery perfume is said to be frequently smelled when new Front of House staff are working their first shift, almost as if she is watching the new additions.

A former carpenter recalls: "I was working on putting up a set in the RST and I smelled perfume very strongly, so strongly that I thought it was one of the other workers till they said something as well. It was like a vertical column of scent rising directly upwards from a certain point, and then it just disappeared."
Front of House Assistant Sue experienced even more: "I had a close encounter with the Perfumed Lady a few months ago in the upper circle. During an evening shift myself and another Front of House Assistant sensed there was a presence in the auditorium. I kept hearing the sound of creaking floorboards. At the interval my colleague asked me who had been walking up and down the lobby during the first half of the show and I said no one!

"In the second half, I continued to hear creaking floorboards but there was no one there. Suddenly, out of nowhere came this most beautiful smell. It enveloped me for a minute and I held my wrists to my nose in case I'd forgotten my own scent, but it was nothing like what I was wearing. Then, just as abruptly as the scent came, it melted away. Later I was told of this ghost called the Perfumed Lady (who I'd had no knowledge of) and I felt even more spooked. I've worked in the same place since and felt nothing like the strange atmosphere I felt that night. Also, more strangely, I've walked along the floor behind the seats where the floor creaked on that night and it doesn't creak at all!" 

Macbeth in his white military uniform is haunted by the red-lit ghost of Banquo, sitting behind him at the banquet.
Hence, horrible shadow! The ghost of Banquo haunts Macbeth in the 2004 production.
Photo by Manuel Harlan © RSC Browse and license our images

The Grey Lady

A second female figure called the Grey Lady haunts the areas around the Swan Theatre, with security guards reporting that she switches on the Swan Theatre Bridge lights every night. After the security team have switched them off, they are always back on by the time they have walked to Stage Door. Investigations have taken place and there is no timer connected to this light, nor has the switch been tampered with. No matter who turns this light off, or how many times, it is always on again when they go back.

Spotted on CCTV and on thermal imaging photos, the Grey Lady is always described as wearing a long grey dress and appears to people so real that she is often mistaken for a lost patron. One of our Retail Merchandisers, Pippa, told us her story of the ghost: "I was opening up in the old Swan shop on a Sunday morning, which included unlocking the Swan Gallery doors and turning all the lights on. We used to have a TV in the corner of the shop where you could see a CCTV feed of the upstairs gallery. While I was in there, I was looking at an old costume and I remember feeling cold, but nothing else out of the ordinary. When I went back downstairs, a colleague said that she was surprised to see someone viewing the gallery so early. I said it was only me up there but she said no, there was a lady standing behind me while I was looking at the costume: she had seen her on the CCTV. She told me she saw an old woman in a long grey dress standing behind me as I looked at the costume but there was definitely no one in that room other than me!"

Freelance photographer Stewart had his own close encounter: "It was during the Transformation Project when the old building was at the height of its demolition stage. I was working alone, taking photos in the foyer, which was sealed off from the rest of the building for security reasons. I was walking towards the fountain, looking down at my camera to check some shots I had just taken. As I walked under the clock in the foyer I looked up to see a woman walking down the stairs. The curve of the staircase took her out of sight for a couple of seconds, no longer, by which time I had reached the fountain area to see she had vanished. There was simply no way she could have gone back, either up or down the stairs, without me seeing her. She had appeared as a real figure and now she had gone. My impression was that she was wearing a greyish dress and had quite dark hair. She certainly seemed real, too real to be a shadow or reflection."

Polly Findlay's Macbeth, starring Christopher Eccleston and Niamh Cusack, opens in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre on 13 March 2018.

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