Check all the Clans that have DNA Projects. If your Clan is not in the list there's a way for it to be listed. Electric Scotland's Classified Directory An amazing collection of unique holiday cottages, castles and apartments, all over Scotland in truly amazing locations.

Click here to get a Printer Friendly Page

The Story of the Scots Stage
Chapter V - The Edinburgh Stage


About the year 1752, Mr. Lee purchased the Canongate Theatre from the original proprietors for the sum of £645.

Its management, however, passed through a variety of hands. Dissensions arose amongst the performers themselves, factions were created, and the end was reached one evening when, during a performance of Hamlet, the auditors completed the tragedy of disaster by wrecking the theatre and setting it afire. A long spell of litigation followed; but at length the house was refitted, and, amongst the first items of importance that may be cited was the production of Douglas, by the Reverend John Home, minister of Athelstaneford, on 14th December, 1756. The cast included

A persistent candidate for dramatic honours, Home had, in 1749, taken up his Greek tragedy, Agis, to the "great little Garrick," but was unsuccessful in placing it. Six years afterwards, he renewed his application with the new play, Douglas, and his second attempt failed to find any encouragement from Garrick. Doubtless the fact that Roscius had then reached his fortieth year may have had some effect in dissuading him from a portrayal of the stripling "Douglas." With the glamour of his play fresh upon him, Home returned to Edinburgh, and his staunchest friends advised its performance at the Canongate Theatre. Amongst the stories in connection with the play, there is one which tells of a private rehearsal where several notabilities took up the different parts. The historian Robertson played Lord Randolph; David Hume, Glenavon; Dr. Carlyle, Old Norval; John Home, Douglas; Dr. Adam Ferguson, Lady Randolph; and Hugh Blair, Anna, before a select audience, which included Lord Elibank, Milton, Karnes, and the eccentric Monboddo. At its first public performance, a crowded audience attested its welcome to the first Scottish tragedy, amongst whom were many of the clergy, who, in the language of the record, "skulked into corners." "The town," wrote Rev. Dr. Carlyle, "was in an uproar of exultation that a Scotsman did write a tragedy of the first rate, and that its merits were submitted to them." Amongst the players, Dr. Carlyle expresses his surprise and admiration of Mrs. Ward as Lady Randolph. The production of this play was not without results. To the Kirk, it was a dire awakening to the condition of mind of their people, and the popularity of the play was regarded as a menace to the progress of religion and morality.

On the 5th of January, 1757, the Presbytery of Edinburgh issued an "Admonition and Exhortation" to all within their bounds:-

"The Presbytery taking into their serious consideration the declining state of religion, the open profanation of the Lord's Day, the contempt of public worship, the growing luxury and levity of the present age—in which so many seem lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God—and being particularly affected with the unprecedented countenance given of late to the Playhouse in this place, when the state of the nation and the circumstances of the poor, make such hurtful entertainments still more pernicious, judged it their indispensable duty to express in the most open and solemn manner, the deep concern they feel on this occasion. The opinion which the Christian Church has always entertained of stage plays and players as prejudicial to the interest of religion and morality is well known, and the fatal influence which they commonly have on the far greater part of mankind, particularly the younger sort, is too obvious to be called in question. To enumerate how many servants, apprentices, and students in different branches of literature in this city and suburbs, have been seduced from their proper business by attending the stage would be a painful, disagreeable task.

"The Presbytery, in the year 1727, when consisting of many pious, prudent, and learned ministers, whose praise is in all the Churches, being aware of these evils, did prepare a paper, which was read from the several pulpits within their bounds, warning their people against the dangerous infection of the theatre then erected here. (Carruber's Close.) In the year 1737, the legislature in their great wisdom, did, by an Act, the 10th of George the Second, enact and declare:—'That every person who should, for hire or reward, act or cause to be acted, any play, or other entertainment of the stage, without the special license and authority mentioned in the said Act, should be deemed a rogue and vagabond, and for every such offence should forfeit the sum of £50 sterling.' At that time a project was set on foot to obtain a licensed theatre in this city, but the masters and professors of the University, supported by the Magistrates, having prepared a petition setting forth the dangerous tendency of a playhouse here, with respect to the important interests of virtue and learning, the project was laid aside. The players, however, being so audacious as to continue to act in defiance of the law, the Presbytery did at their own charge, prosecute them before the Court of Session and prevailed in the process. The players were fined in terms of law; and warrants being issued for apprehending them, they fled from justice. But others came in their place, who since that time have attempted to elude the law, by changing the name of the playhouse into that of Concert Hall. As such a slight evasion, the mere change of a name, could not make the smallest variation in the nature of the thing, the Presbytery continued to do all in their power and in their sphere, to prevent the growing evil; and think themselves at this time loudly called upon in one body, and with one voice, to expostulate, in the bowels of love and compassion, with all under their care and instruction."

Then follows the usual exhortation against the "infection of the stage and its illegal and dangerous entertainments."

On the 12th January, Mr. White, minister of Liberton, was called before the Presbytery on this charge. He confessed his guilt, but pleaded that he had "endeavoured to conceal himself in a corner." (The defence is so beautiful that comment is unnecessary.) In respect of this circumstance, some members moved that only a solemn rebuke should be administered, but Mr. White was suspended till 2nd February.

The Presbytery of Dunse, after rebuking two of their members in accordance with the tenor of the aforesaid exhortation, proceeded to characterise this as arbitrary, pointing out that no mention is made of any Scriptural passages or Acts of General Assembly "to which the conduct of our brethren was repugnant; Whilst admitting that certain Acts of the Edinburgh Presbytery in 1737 were quoted," they do not regard that these should be regarded as standards by the Dunse Presbytery. According to information, the only Church law relating to the theatre read: —

"That no comedies or tragedies or such plays, should be made on any subject of canonical Scripture, nor on the Sabbath day. If any minister be the writer of such a play, he shall be deprived of his ministry. As 'for plays of another subject, they also should be examined before they be propounded publicly." (Acts of Assembly, 1574.)

One of the arguments used in this famous controversy by the Church was "the dissolute lives and infamous characters of the players." As a specimen of vituperation, the following, taken from a pamphlet of the period, is interesting: —

"It is agreed upon by sober pagans themselves that playactors are the most profligate wretches and vilest vermin that hell ever vomited out: that they are the filth and garbage of the earth, the scum and stain of human nature, the excrement and refuse of all mankind: the pests and plagues of human society; the debauchers of men's minds and morals, unclean beasts, idolatrous papists or atheists, and the most horrid and abandoned; villains that ever the sun shone upon."

In the storm of ridicule that followed, Dr. Adam Ferguson produced a pamphlet entitled The Morality 0/ Stage Plays Considered, in which he defended the dramatic corps, from the Scriptural examples of Joseph and his brethren, and pointed out that the only prohibition was against the use of Canonical Scriptures and performances on Sunday. Another contributor to the satirical side of the question was Dr. Carlyle, minister of Inverness, who published his Reasons Why the Tragedy of Douglas should be burned by the Hands of the Common Hangman, and a second one for the delectation of the lower classes, A History of the Bloody Tragedy of Douglas as it is now performed at the Theatre in the Canon gate.

The only ostensible purpose this clerical opposition served was to advertise the play so extensively that full houses became the order of the day (or rather, evening) at the Canon-gate.

Five ministers, who were auditors at the first performance, were called up before their several Presbyteries, and, having made their submission, were accordingly rebuked. The excuse made by Mr. Steele, the minister of Stair, was that the theatre was so far distant from his house, that lie considered he would not he known, and his presence would therefore give no offence. The Presbytery of Haddington dealt with Mr. Home, the head and front of the offending. At first he asked for a delay, and subsequently he tendered his resignation. Dalkeith Presbytery brought Dr. Carlyle before them, but the worthy Doctor would neither admit his sin, nor submit his penitence. A libel was served upon him, charging him with being in company with players who were, in the eyes of the law, of bad fame: with rehearsing Douglas: with appearing openly in a box at Canongate playhouse, and having turned a gentleman out of it. (Needless to say, the gent referred to had been "twining the vine-leaves too freely in his hair.") The matter was discussed for some months, and terminated with a rebuke being administered by the Synod of Lothian and Tweedale. Curiously enough, the Doctor was selected, two years afterwards, to preach before the High Commissioner: about eleven years later, he occupied the Moderator's chair, and at his death he had attained one of the highest positions in the Church.

A quotation from Cunningham's History on this question may not be altogether inapropos:

"The termination of the proceedings before the Church courts did not end the controversy they originated — nor is it terminated yet. The one party declared that, never since the day when Galileo was thrown into the prison of the Inquisition for saying the earth revolved round the sun, had anything so disgraceful in the Church occurred. Home had written the noblest drama of which his country could boast, and for this he was compelled to evacuate his parish by the terrors of deposition. The Church had degraded the man whom all ages would delight to honour. Was there anything essentially sinful in dramatic composition? If there were bad plays, might there not be good plays, and was it not so with Douglas? Was not its morality faultless, and were not the feelings it delineated the noblest that can fill the breast—the love of a mother for a lost child, and the ambition of a youth to excel? And why this horror for the Theatre; is not a man so framed by God that he must have amusement? And, if he is denied the amusement resulting from theatrical representation, is it not certain that he will seek for excitement of a coarser and more ruinous kind? Has it not been proved by experience, is it not written in the reports of the Police-Courts, that when theatres are shut, crime increases? It was agreed on the other side that the playhouse had ever been the favourite haunt of vice. The question was...

What was the duty of Christians looking at the stage simply as it was, notoriously immoral? Were not the great majority of the plays, even those of Shakespeare himself, confessedly obscene? Were not things spouted on the stage that could not be repeated in the parlour? Were not many pure minds first familiarised with vice by seeing it represented on the boards of a theatre, many consciences so stunned that they never after recovered their tenderness? And how is the play of Douglas to be defended on high Christian principles? Did it not use language which looked very like swearing? Did it not give its sanction to something very like suicide?"

As exhibiting the great advance in clerical opinion, a noteworthy fact is recorded by Scott, who states that, when the General Assembly sat in t 784, they experienced considerable difficulty in procuring a full attendance of members on the evenings upon which Mrs. Siddons performed.

The sequel to Garrick's second refusal of Douglas, consequent upon its Northern success, happened when "silver-toned" Barry produced it at Covent Garden, where the play met with instant recognition. Garrick's choice of this author's work fell upon Agis, which proved a sorry failure, its rhetoric fulsomeness being fatal to any measure of success.

In 1759 a dromedary and camel were exhibited at Craig's Close, where, according to the Edinburgh Herald and Chronicle, they were deemed "the two wonders of the world." In this Close was the tavern, the Isle of Man Arms, where foregathered those early Bohemians, "The Cape Club." Tom Lancashire, the comedian, was the first sovereign of the Club, as Sir Cape, about the year 1764. Amongst its list of members were included the names of Ferguson, the poet; David Herd, Walter Ross, Sir Henry Raeburn, and the notorious Deacon Brodie.

With the erection of the New Theatre Royal, the old Canongate house was deserted in 1767. Of it, Mr. James Grant says: --

"The front land, though which an access gives to the old Playhouse Close, is a fine specimen of Scotch Street architecture in the time of Charles the First. It has a row of dormer windows, with another of storm windows in a steep roof that reminds one of those in Bruges and Antwerp. Over a doorway within the Close is an ornamental tablet, the inscription of which has become defaced, and the old theatre itself has long since given place to private dwellings. In one of those lived in 1784 a plan named Wilson Gavin whose name appears in Peter Williamson's Directory as an 'Excellent Shoemaker and Leather Tormentor.' "

The new theatre was erected in Shakespeare Square, which, at that time, formed part of the Orphan Hospitals Park, where George Whitfield used to preach, and where the General Post Office now stands. The famous Methodist, finding, upon his return to the scene of former labours, that a theatre had been erected thereon, was full of indignation to think that a place, which he had deemed to be rendered sacred by reason of the sermons he had delivered, should be turned to such base uses. In his judgment, "the ground was appropriated to the service of Satan." It was a positive indication of the increasing wickedness of society, "a plucking up of God's standard, and a planting of the devil's in its place."

The Act for the New Town of Edinburgh contained a clause, which empowered the Crown to grant Royal Letters Patent for a Theatre. Prior to the reign of George the Third, not one of these houses was countenanced by the law of the land. On the 16th March, 1768, the foundation stone of the Theatre Royal was laid, and for ninety years it formed the scene of some of the most notable triumphs in Scots drama. Engraved on a silver plate of the stone was the inscription: ---

"The first stone of this new theatre was laid on the 16th day of March in the year of our Lord 1768 by David Ross, patentee and first proprietor of a licensed stage in Scotland. May this theatre tend to promote every moral and every virtuous principle, and may the representation be such

To make mankind in conscious virtue bold
Live on each scene, and be what they behold."

Ross was the late proprietor of the Canongate Theatre. The Scots Magazine for 1768 gives some details as to the financial position of the new house.

"Mr. Ross had to raise £2500 by 25 £100 shares, for which the subscribers were to receive 3% and free access to all performances and every part of the house, except behind the scenes. The house is to be 100 feet in length by 5o broad. To furnish new scenes, wardrobe, and necessary decorations will, it is computed cost £1500 more and the whole building is to be insured for £4000 and mortgaged in security to pay the interest. As it would be impossible to procure good performers should the tickets continue at the low prices now paid, it is proposed to make the boxes 4s., the pit 3s., the first gallery 2s., and the upper 1s. 'For these prices,' says Mr. Ross, 'shall vie with those of London and Dublin.' There shall be five capital men actors, one good man singer, one second singer, three capital women singers, one capital man dancer, and one woman dancer; the rest as good as can be had: the orchestra shall be conducted with a good first fiddle' as a leader, a harpsichord, and the rest of the band persons of merit."

The total cost of the building was £5,000, and, with the ruling prices of 3s., 2s., and is., it held £140, the Canongate holding about £80 at prices of 2s. 6d., 1s. 6d., and is. The first two seasons at the new house were in the nature of a failure, one cause being that the theatre was so difficult of access. During the next three years it was leased by Samuel Foote, of the London Haymarket, at an annual rental of 500 guineas. Opening in the year 1770, with Woodward and Weston in the caste, in his own comedy, The Commissary, he had a splendid season, rumour stating that he succeeded in clearing £1,000 for that period. Here, too, on the 24th November, he produced his comedy, The Minor, in which a burlesque of Whitfield and the other evangelists was given to an audience that included Robert Dundas of Arniston, Lord President of the Court. The following day Dr. Walker, at the High Church, made a bitter attack upon Foote for "the gross profanation of the theatre on the preceding evening."

Towards the end of the year, Foote, finding it difficult to manage two theatres satisfactorily, conveyed his lease of the Royal to West Digges and Bland. Starting with the beautiful Mrs. Hartley in their company, they managed to clear £1,400 in the first season. Digges and Bland were both ex-army men. The former had been a favourite at the Canongate house, and the latter was equally well known, having remained in public favour for over twenty-three years. Bland had the honour to be the uncle of the famous Mrs. Jordan, and was also related to Edmund Glover.

In 1774, Foote came over from Dublin for a seven night engagement, for which he received the sum of £250, a not inconsiderable salary for a star in those clays. During the management of the above, most of the London stars, including Bellamy, Sheridan, Barry, and Mr. and Mrs. Yates, appeared at the Theatre Royal. Although of London birth, Mrs. Yates was of Scottish parentage. If one may judge from a pecuniary point of view, her talents were regarded as being upon a high level, for her husband and herself were paid 700 guineas at the end of one season by Digges, whilst the next lessee, Mr. Jackson, paid her too guineas per night. At this period, the profession enjoyed the patronage of the legal circles. The fashion had been set, and gradually the aristocracy moulded their customs to suit their taste for the drama: indeed, dinner was usually served at 4 o'clock to enable the bon ton to attend the theatre, where the performance commenced at 6.30.

The assumption of the managerial reins by Mr. John Jackson in 1781 brought the advent of Mrs. Siddons in Edinburgh. Her first appearance was made on 22nd May, 1784, in Venice Preserved, where she played Belvidera to the Jaffier of Wood, an Edinburgh man. That the engagement was a successful one is confirmed by an excerpt from the Edinburgh Weekly Magazine of that date:—

"The manager took the precaution after the first night to have an officer and Guard of Soldiers at the principal door. But several scuffles having ensued through the eagerness of the people to get places, and the soldiers having been rash enough to use their bayonets, it was thought advisable to withdraw the guards on the third night, lest any accident had happened from the pressure of the crowd, who began to assemble round the doors at 11 in the forenoon."

Her first performance was not without its trials. The undemonstrative character of her audience was not an inspiring spectacle. Thomas Campbell, in speaking of her reception, and its apparent coldness, tells how Mrs. Siddons, having summoned all her powers in an effort to electrify the audience, she paused and looked at the sea of stony faces. The deep silence was at length broken by a voice exclaiming, "That's no' bad!" The ludicrous parsimony of praise at once convulsed the audience with laughter. But the laugh was followed by such thunders of applause "that, amidst her stunned and nervous agitation, she was not without fear of the galleries coming down."

For this first visit her repertoire included The Gamester, Mourning Bride, Douglas, Isabella, Jane Shore, and The Grecian Daughter. Her earnings for the ten nights were £50 nightly, with an additional sum of £350 which she received on the night of her benefit, as well as a magnificent presentation of plate. On the second visit in 1785 there was a decided increase: in the figures, £120 per night being the average earning, with £200 for a performance of The Gamester. As an example of the furore her appearance created, "a certain set of gents, by subscribing £200 as a guarantee beforehand, considered themselves very fortunate in securing private and early entrance to the pit." On one day alone, 2,557 applications were made for 630 places. Amongst the many alleged incidents which happened during her Edinburgh visit, there is one which may appeal largely to the superstitious. A young Aberdeenshire heiress, Miss Gordon of Gicht, was borne out of her box in hysterics, screaming the last words she had caught from the great actress, "Oh! my Biron, my Biron! " In the course of a short time, she was married to the Hon. John Byron, and came down to posterity as the mother of Lord Byron.

In 1788, a new patent was procured in the names of the Duke of Hamilton and Henry Dundas (afterwards Viscount Melville), with the consent of Mr. Jackson, at whose expense it was taken out. Jackson becoming bankrupt, Stephen Kemble secured a one year's lease of the theatre, his principal performances therein being Macbeth and Douglas.

That the rigorous attention to archaeological details, which is now the rule, was not so marked in those days is evident from a perusal of Donaldson's Recollections of an Actor (1815), where he remarks, "I have seen Macbeth dressed in a red officer's coat, sash, blue pants. Hessian boots and cocked hat."

The following year, Mrs. Esten, a favourite actress, came into possession of the lease. Kemble, disappointed at having missed his opportunity, erected a rival house facing Leith Walk, at the junction of Little King Street with Broughton Street, which he called "The Circus." An injunction was obtained against Kemble to prevent his producing plays, but, although afterwards the house confined itself to equestrian displays, nevertheless it proved a somewhat serious rival. Latterly "The Circus" adopted the title of "The Adelphi Theatre," and then occupied a site identical with that of the present Theatre Royal. The Scots Magazine for 1793 states that, on January 21st, the New Theatre of Edinburgh (formerly "The Circus") was opened under the management of Mr. Stephen Kemble with the comedy of The Rivals, Mr. Lee Lewes, a well-known comedian and entertainer, appearing as Sir Anthony Absolute and Mrs. Kemble as Julia. At the end of this season, Kemble managed again to secure the Theatre Royal, which he held till the year 1800. An Italian named Corri took up "The Circus," but not with very gratifying results. A run of The School for Scandal gave him a fillip, but that was of too temporary a character to recoup his already heavy losses.

The Theatre Royal became the scene of a memorable riot in 1794. The occasion was a performance of Charles the First. Some of the occupants of the boxes insisted that the orchestra should play "God Save The King," and that, during its performance, the audience should stand and uncover. To do this, the more democratic of the auditors flatly refused, with the result that a tumult of a serious character ensued. The row was continued next Saturday, when the rival factions, having collected additional adherents, attended the theatre in force. Upon the refusal of the democrats to uncover during the National Anthem, the signal was given for the attack, which was chiefly made by the officers of the Argyllshire Fencibles. The upshot of the melee was a profusion of broken heads and smashed jaws, many of the audience being carried home in a sanguinary condition. Sir Walter Scott, then a young man newly called to the bar, was one of the interested combatants in this riot.

Amongst the star actors who appeared at this house was Henry Erskine Johnstone, "The Scottish Roscius," who occupied the boards in 1797. He was the son of a High Street barber, enjoying a certain measure of distinction. From the post of lawyer's clerk, he had drifted into the profession. His favourite parts were Hamlet and Douglas. As an example of his versatility, he appeared on the same evening as Hamlet, completing the night's work by a performance as Harlequin. But that was in the clays when the dramatic habitue expected value for his money.

At the close of the eighteenth century, manners had become pretty loose. For a gentleman to give a dinner which did not end in his guests being rendered hors de combat, was considered a breach of hospitality. It was unfortunate that amongst many of these guests were members of the clergy, who seemed unable to rise above the prevailing tone of the society in which they lived. The scenes at Sacrament were nothing short of being disgraceful. In the various districts the Sacrament was celebrated in the market town, to which the people thronged from the country. around. For this function, as many as half a dozen clergymen were invited to take up the day's services, the sermonic rivalry between them forming a ready excuse for refreshment. intervals. An account of one of these may be found in Burns' " Holy Fair," in which the Bard finds a ready excuse for his keenest shafts of satire:-

``How mony hearts this day converts,
O' sinners an' o' lasses!
Their hearts o' stane, gin night, are gane
As salt as ony flesh is.
There's some are fou o' love divine;
There's some are fou o' brandy
An' mony jobs that day begin,
May end in houghmagandy
Some itber day."

A spot opposite the Botanic Gardens, known as the Lover's Loan, Leith Walk, in 1802 formed the site of "Barker's Famous Panorama" from Leicester Square, London, "wherein might be witnessed views of Dover, the Downs, and the coast of France, with the embarkation of troops, horse and foot, t o till (tusk, admission Is. per head."

Meantime, the Theatre Royal was passing through all the vicissitudes of theatrical life, success following fast upon the footsteps of failure, and failure upon that of success. About the year 1805 the notable boy prodigy, Master Betty, "Young Roscius," occupied its boards. His performance of Norval elicited the testimony from Home that, until now, his conception of the character of Douglas had never been realised.

When the twenty-one years' patent of the theatre expired, it was transferred to certain assignees, two of whom were Walter Scott and Henry Mackenzie, author of The Man of Feeling.

In 1809, Henry Siddons, the son of Mrs. Siddons, refitted Corn's Rooms as a theatre, at an expense of £4,000. After spending two seasons there, at the suggestion of Scott, he applied for, and obtained, the patent of the Theatre Royal, where he transferred his company. The list of members included Henry Siddons (Belvoir, Archer, Charles Surface); Terry (Sir Peter Teazle, Sir Anthony Absolute, and Lord Ogilvy); William Murray, character actor; Berry, low comedian; and the three actresses, Mrs. Henry Siddons, Mrs. Nicol, and Mrs. W. Pierson. It was during Siddon's term that Joanna Baillie's play, The Fancily Legend (January 29, 1810) was produced, the prologue being provided by Henry Mackenzie and the epilogue by Sir Walter Scott. In the month of March, 1810, Mrs. Siddons appeared in a round of her favourite parts. John Kemble followed in July with the Handsome Johnston, then Emery had a short season, and last, though not least, the beautiful Mrs. Jordan.

When Henry Siddons died (1815), the house was carried on by his widow and her brother, William H. Murray. Under their management, Miss Elizabeth O'Neil appeared, her greatest successes being achieved in the parts of Juliet, Mrs. Haller, Jane Shore, and Mrs. Beverley. In the words of the historian, "she seemed designed by nature to catch the tragic mantle as it fell from Mrs. Siddon's shoulders." The simile, for theatre-goers unfortunately, reached, no higher degree than that of seeming. The year 1816 brought Edmund Kean to the city, who appeared in Richard the Third, Othello, and Merchant of Venice.

During the next three years, the stars who visited were the elder Mathews, Miss Stephens, Charles and Mrs. Kemble. Even those attractions were not sufficiently strong to keep the wolf from the door, for in 1819 we find a form of arrestment being put in by a number of clamorous creditors. The saving of the situation lay in the hands of Scott. Rob Roy had already attained a gratifying success at Covent Garden. An excellent cast was rehearsed, special scenery provided, and on the 15th February the opening night came. The result over-reached the most extravagant hopes, public opinion declaring it one of the greatest theatrical hits of the times, and indeed, in Scotland, it may still he regarded as such, if the testimony of perennial revivals be the ultimate criterion. The piece ran for forty-one nights, which, although apparently a short run according to modern experience, was considered a record in these days.

The principals in the cast were:-

The remainder of the Waverley dramas followed upon the heels of this success, with excellent pecuniary results, financial troubles having now ceased. As an instance of the popularity of Rob Roy, it is worthy of mention that, up till 1851, it had been acted about four hundred times at the Theatre Royal, and there is a record of its having had a fifty nights' run with Ryder's company at Perth in 1829. It was Rob Roy which George the Fourth chose for interpretation on his visit to Edinburgh in 1822, when it was played by command at the Theatre Royal on 27th August. The occasion was a memorable one and spoke volumes for the loyalty of the Edinburgh citizens. In the early morning, the audience commenced to assemble at the doors, and at the opening hour it was feared the tremendous crush might end in a serious loss of life. But the good sense of the crowd asserted itself, and everyone managed to enter the theatre in safety. As a record of the period says:—"All the wealth, rank, and beauty of Scotland filled the boxes, and the waving of tartan plaids and plumed bonnets produced hurricanes of acclamation long before the arrival of the King, who occupied a species of throne in the centre box, and behind him stood the Marquis of Montrose, the Earl of Fife, and other nobles. At his entrance the entire audience joined the orchestra in the ' National Anthem.' "

Reverting to Corn's Rooms, which survived under the name of "The Pantheon" for many years, the house again made a bid for public favour in December, 1823, opening up as the Caledonian Theatre under the management of Henry Johnston, who produced a series of melodramas, amongst others being The Orphan of Geneva. The former ill-fate pursued it, however, and after a sufficiently tiresome share of losses, Johnston was forced to resign himself to the inevitable, after which he left Edinburgh. Seven years afterwards he returned, playing four nights at this theatre, then under the management of Mr. C. Bass. After fulfilling this engagement, he acted for several years at the London theatres, but, fortune failing to shine too consistently upon his efforts, in 1838 he sailed for America, adopting that more congenial clime as his home. This theatre underwent all the vicissitudes of dramatic fortune. For some time it was under the management of R. H. Wyndham, with the designation of the Adelphi Theatre, but it was ultimately burned down in 1853. On its site was built the Queen's Theatre and Opera House. Again in 1865 the fire claimed it as a victim, several lives being lost by the fall of the walls. A third time it was re-constructed, and a third time it was burned down (1874). In January, 1876, the present Theatre Royal was opened, the architect being Mr. C. J. Phipps.

To the old Theatre Royal in Shakespeare Square many stars had come. Here Vandenhoff the elder (circa 1825) appeared as Sir Giles Overreach, and as Sir William Wallace in The Baffle of Falkirk; Denham, who played James VI. to Murray's "Jingling Geordie"; Mrs. Renaud, tragedienne; Mrs. Nicol as leading old lady; Miss Paton; and Miss Noel. The scene painter was David Roberts, and the leader of orchestra, T. Fraser.

The first dinner of the Edinburgh Theatrical f" und, instituted for the relief of decayed actors, took place in February, 1827. It is rendered all the more memorable from the fact that it is asserted that there Sir Walter Scott avowed himself the author of the Waverley Novels.

The twenty-one year lease taken by Mrs. Henry Siddons expired in 1830, when she gave a farewell performance as Lady Townley in The Provoked Husband. After this, she retired into private life, carrying with her "the good wishes of all in Edinburgh, for many had recognised in her not merely the accomplished actress, but the good mother, the refined lady, and the irreproachable member of society."

Her brother, William Murray, leased the house for another twenty-one years, retiring in 1851 after a period of indifferent success. Lloyd, the comedian, Robinson, and Leslie had a spell of management, but, failing to make the theatre a paying concern, it fell into the hands of R. H. Wyndham. The last-named, a gentleman by birth and education, came to Edinburgh in 1845 in support of Helen Faucit. He had previously managed the Adelphi, until its destruction in 1853, when he assumed the reins at the Theatre Royal, and under his able conduct it speedily became one of the best known houses in the three kingdoms. As an actor, he was at his best in light comedy. Mrs. Wyndham played with distinction such parts as Peg Woffington, Mrs. Haller, and Lady Macbeth.

Under Wyndham's regime, all the leading members of the profession appeared, including also the Italian operatic stars.

Here are some names picked at random from a long and interesting list. Kean, Helen Faucit, Paul Bedford, Wright, J. L. Toole, Gustavus Brooke, Madame\ Celeste, Alf Wigan, Mrs. Stirling, Sothern, Mesdames Ristori, Titiens, Mario, and Guiglini.

The Government having purchased the site for £5,000 upon which to erect the General Post Office, after a career of ninety years the farewell performance was given, Lord Neaves contributing the valedictory address. Here is the programme:---

One of the most notable items in this programme, to a dramatic student, is the appearance of young Henry Irving, then nineteen years of age. He had just migrated from the stock company at the Lyceum Theatre, Sunderland, and joined up Wyndham's stock company in Edinburgh, where, during his sojourn, he played the parts of Horatio, Banquo, Macduff, Catesby, Pisanio, and Claudius. He also appeared in burlesque and pantomime. The local critics praised him for his "gentlemanly" air, his earnest ways, and the care he bestowed on his make-up and costume, and occasionally chided him for some of those mannerisms which afterwards became historical.


Return to Book Index Page

 


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus

Quantcast