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Book of the Month

August 2003

Scottish Playbills


This month we have chosen to highlight a collection of Scottish Playbills from the Scottish Theatre Archive of the Special Collections Department. The collection comprises over 2,000 playbills, for productions at the Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh and range in date from 1883-1925.  

STA Xc 4/393

The 24th of August 1947 marked the beginning of the Edinburgh International Festival and for three weeks in every year the Royal Lyceum Theatre has the status and role of a major European venue, the success of the festival has played a crucial part in the Lyceum' s survival.

A playbill is a long, narrow theatre announcement, printed on one side.  Early playbills provided the dual purpose of serving as an advertisement for a performance as well as a programme. Single sheets were given as handouts in the theatre or posted in public places. 

These playbills provided information about a particular show, giving place, time, a list of the actors and the characters that they portrayed, an advertisement of the following evening's performance, and often information on availability of late trains.

Theatrical playbills provide information for a number of research areas, ranging from theatre histories, careers and performances to styles of printing and typography.  The printer of the playbills in the collection is James Turner & Co, Lothian Press, Edinburgh.

As with many of the playbills in the Theatre Archive collection, they eventually became poster size, which made them unmanageable as a programme. This called for the printing of separate, smaller programmes to be handed out to the audience upon entering the theatre. 

This collection of playbills gives a delightful glimpse at the mixture of entertainment available from Musical plays to Shakespeare, from Scottish drama to Romantic opera. 




STA Xc 5/77

Prices including Entertainments Tax for A Little Dutch Girl ranged from 2 8s for Boxes to 1s for the Gallery. 

This musical play was written by Harry Graham and Seymour Hicks.  Hicks was an English dramatist and actor-manager. 




All the great actor-managers including F.R. Benson appeared at the Lyceum.  Frank Robert Benson was born in Tunbridge Wells, Kent.  He formed his own Shakespearean  acting company in 1883 and in 1901 founded an acting school.  He was knighted in the Royal Box at Drury Lane during a performance of Julius Ceasar in 1916.


STA Xc 3/358

Scott began writing The Lady of the Lake in August 1809 while holidaying with his wife, Charlotte, and daughter, Sofia, in the Trossachs and along the shores and islands of Loch Katrine. 

The poem was eventually published on May 8, 1810, selling 25,000 copies in just 8 months.




"No lover of the Beautiful scenery of the Trossachs, around which Scott has cast such a halo of romance, should miss witnessing this Magnificent Production"

STA Xc 2/79



STA Xc 5/9

Monsieur Beaucaire, a romantic opera in three acts, was composed by Andre Messager, with lyrics by Adrian Ross and based on the story by Booth Tarkington.  It opened at the Prince's Theatre, London, 0n 19th April 1919.  There were many revivals, the date of this production being 22nd March 1920.

STA Xc 3/368

With the emergence of cinema, the theatre had to cater to the needs of the audience.  This 1912 playbill advertises the return visit of KINEMACOLOR from the Scala Theatre, London.  In addition to the Successful 'With our King & Queen Through India' the audience could view the 'Unveiling of the Victoria Memorial ' and 'Cairo and the Nile' with Wonderful Sunset effects



The Royal Lyceum Theatre (also known as the Lyceum Theatre) opened on 10 September 1883 under the management of J. B. Howard and F. W. P. Wyndham. Built at an original cost of 17,000 by the architect CJ Phipps, it has had only four alterations in 1929, 1977, 1991 and 1996.

The theatre opened with a two-week run of 'Much ado about nothing' performed by Henry Irving and the London Lyceum company, with the first appearance in Edinburgh of Ellen Terry, to an audience of 2,500. As with many old theatres, rumour has it that the Royal Lyceum has ghosts. One is believed to have been the ghost of Ellen Terry. A chalk statue of Ellen stood in the foyer of the theatre, and during the war, when chalk was in demand, the statue was smashed up and only the head survived. The rumour is that her 'head' was still rolling around under the stalls as late as 1965.





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Claire McKendrick August 2003