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Second City of The Empire: 1830s to 1914

Culture and Leisure


By Adrienne Scullion

Theatre Royal Throughout the 19th century the major cities of Scotland were an important part of the economic and social infrastructure of British touring theatre. There were fine Theatres Royal in the major centres of population, a vital minor house tradition that resulted in a strong local tradition of performance in illegitimate theatre, and a remarkable popular voice in the tradition of the "penny geggies" (small-scale, fit-up touring theatres) that contributed to the rising phenomenon of the urban music hall.

David Brown By the late 19th century the spread of the railways, and the rise of the London touring productions, had led to the disappearance of the local stock companies and few independent theatres in Scotland remained. This state of affairs existed all over Britain, but the loss of theatrical independence was all the more crippling to Scotland as the division between legitimacy and illegitimacy, the new and the old fashioned, increasingly split along national lines. Through the 19th century "real" theatre, that is legitimate theatre, became synonymous with London theatre and with companies who arrived by train one Sunday and left by train the next. Indigenous theatre-making in Scotland was increasingly seen as rough, lacking sophistication and, at root, popular.

David Prince Miller London touring theatre, expensive and metropolitan, was patronised by Scotland's prospering middle-classes and, with the notable exception of J M Barrie in the Edwardian period, plays by Scots, about Scotland and performed by Scottish actors were relegated either to the theatres in the poorest parts of the urban centre or to the "penny geggies". Through the mid and even late 19th century, and in some rural areas of Scotland into the 20th century, the geggies continued to perform bawlderdised versions of Shakespeare and melodramas with a Scottish accent to audiences composed almost entirely of the urban and rural working classes. The geggies also played a vital role in the preservation of Scotland's "National Drama". Plays about Scotland, or with Scottish themes and settings, provided more than half the geggies' repertoire. They thrived until musical hall, the variety theatre and cinema displaced them.

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