Date of birth: 10 October 1812.

Brief history: it began life in 1662, when Charles II granted Thomas Killigrew the first theatre patent after Cromwell's defeat (the biggest Roundhead of them all had, of course, closed all theatres and done nasty things to the players). Killigrew built a small theatre between Catherine Street and Drury Lane roughly the size of the present-day stage. It has been completely destroyed and rebuilt three times in its three-century lifespan, and has been managed by such famous names as David Garrick and Richard Brinsley Sheridan. Byron fund-raised the necessary pounds 400,000 for the present building, designed by Benjamin Wyatt. The new theatre opened with a performance of Hamlet in 1812, making it the oldest playhouse in London. The Royal began staging musicals in the Thirties - Noel Coward's Cavalcade and Ivor Novello's The Dancing Years - and its policy of putting on big, loud, garish extravaganzas to lots of people continues to this day.

The building: in a word, large. It has a seating capacity of 2188. It's rather ornate, with saloons, sweeping staircases and a rotunda with statues of Shakespeare. Beazeley added the Catherine Street portico in 1820, and the Rhubarb Alley collonade in 1831

Uses: the place where middle-aged American and early-teen Europeans part with large sums of their hard-earned cash, all for the dubious priviledge of a night in front of Miss Saigon.

Recommended seats: for visibility, dress circle and the stalls (pounds 32.50).

Current events: Victoria Wood, the queen of suburban English mores, takes the mike for a one-off show tonight. Tickets (pounds 25-35) are in aid of the King's Head Theatre in Islington. Otherwise, you're stuck with Miss Saigon, tickets pounds 5.75-pounds 32.50. All bookings on 0171 494 5000.

Cost of a glass of wine: pounds 2.50.

Getting there: Covent Garden tube, then a short, three-minute walk though the market. Silvie Buschmann