Theatres in Dumfries, Scotland
Later - The Electric Theatre
Above - A Google StreetView Image of the Theatre Royal, Dumfries today - Click to Interact
The Theatre Royal, Dumfries is considered
to be the oldest Theatre in Scotland. It was first opened in 1792, although
the foundation stone was laid in 1790. The idea for the Theatre came
from the actor manager George Stephen Sutherland who was performing
in the Assembly Rooms in the George Hotel at the time, this was then
the only performance space in Dumfries. Sutherland rallied round and
managed to get some interested parties, including Robert Burns, to raise
the funds by subscription to build a proper Theatre in the town. The
Theatre was built at a cost of £800 and designed by local architect
Thomas Boyd in a style said to have been based on that of the Theatre
Royal, Bristol and the Theatre
In 1876 the Theatre was rebuilt for its lessee John J. Fryer to the designs of the well known Theatre Architect C. J. Phipps, and reopened on Thursday the 14th of September the same year with a horseshoe shaped auditorium that could hold twice as many people as the original Theatre. The stage of the new Theatre was lowered and the proscenium raised in comparison with the former and the Theatre's ceiling was said to have been 'richly ornamented' with a sunlight in the centre, indeed the whole house was said to have been 'very elegant and comfortable' with its gilt proscenium and ornamented box fronts with crimson cloth rails and green and gold paper throughout the auditorium.
The ERA reported on the opening production in their 24th of September 1876 edition saying: 'On the stage everything possible has been done to make the representations effective. A drop scene, painted by Mr Gordon, displays a scene on the Grand Canal, Venice, and magnificent scenery by Mr Walter Johnstone is painted. The house has cost nearly £3,000, the proprietor, Mr William McKie, of Moat House, having spared no expense in making this new Temple of the Drama answer modern requirements. Mr Fryer's first engagement for the new Theatre was with Mr J. H. Clynds, whose dramatic company appeared in Lord Lytton's celebrated comedy Money. Mr Clynds played Alfred Evelyn with great ability, and was well supported by his company. The character of Clara Douglas was charmingly represented by Miss Ethel Greybrook. Mrs Harker makes a capital Lady Franklin; and Miss Gill personates the light-hearted, selfish Georgina very admirably, though a little more vivacity might be used wan advantage. Mr Young as Sir John Vesey, Mr Leigh as Lord Glossmorc, Mr Carleton as Sir Frederick Blount, Mr Sidney as Graves, Mr Hastings as Captain Dudley Smooth, Mr Hawling as Sharp, acquitted themselves well. The company were enthusiastically cheered and called before the curtain. Between the comedy and the farce with which the entertainment finished - The Area Belle - an interesting part of the programme was performed by Miss Booth, who, with rare elocution, recited an appropriate address. On Friday London Assurance was played, and on Saturday Richard the Third, while this week The Two Orphans has been mounted on a scale of great magnificence. The respected Lessee has placed the managerial reins for the next six months in the hands of Mr Clynds, and certainly with a caterer of his experience and energy at the head of affairs the season should prove a success. Mr G. Lagar is Stage Manager; Mr Moorby, musical director; and Mr E. C. Bertrand, Acting-Manager of the Theatre.'
Arthur Lloyd is known to have taken his Ballyvogan Company to the Theatre Royal, Dumfries in August 1891. And his father, Horatio Lloyd, also performed there in the 1830s and writes about the Theatre on several occasions in his autobiography.
From 1902 to 1909 the Theatre Royal was being used as a Music Hall and also showing early Moving Pictures but in 1909 the Theatre was bought by P. Stobie and Son and the stalls were floored over in Maple and the building used as a Roller Skating Rink. This was not a success however, and the building was then renamed 'The Electric Theatre' and used for full time Cinema. This continued until 1959 when The Guild of Players bought the Theatre and saved it from imminent demolition, and set about an 18 month reconstruction of the building, reopening it as the Theatre Royal in October 1960 with a production of J. M. Barrie's 'What Every Woman Knows'.
Today the Theatre Royal is a remarkable survivor as the shell of the Theatre is still that of the original 1792 building and the facade that of C. J. Phipps' 1876 reconstruction. The auditorium has had some later reconstruction however, as the pit which was originally at basement level was decked over at the height of the dress circle in 1920 and the balcony was rebuilt at the same time with a straight front instead of the original horseshoe shape. Phipps' original dress circle balustrade was however reused in the reconstruction. The walls of the auditorium which had originally been in green and gold paper are now rather plain apart from some frames which were added in 1959 when the The Guild of Players bought the Theatre.
In July 2011 the Dumfries Theatre Royal was given a new lease of life when it was saved from closure by the local charitable Holywood Trust who agreed to make a substantial contribution to upgrade the Theatre and make it water tight. The money will also allow the Guild of Players to purchase adjacent properties so that new workshop facilities and rehearsal space can be built for the Theatre.
You may like to visit the Theatre's own Website here.
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