The Gaiety. A panorama of popular theatre in Britain in the twentieth century. A centenary celebration 1902-2002 of the last vintage Gaiety Theatre on the British mainland. The Gaiety Theatre, Ayr.
by John Moore
At 544 large-format pages, this elephantine book is the biggest history of any Scottish theatre subject. For Theatres Trust Friends, interest in south west Scotland’s premier theatre, in the seaside resort and county town of Ayr, may primarily be the Category B listed building. With excellent photographs and plans, the author charts the building from its construction by architect J. McHardy Young in 1902, a reconstruction after a fire in 1904, a remodelling in 1935, another reinstatement in 1955 and, most recently, to the extension of 1995.
The book is primarily a 25-chapter chronology of shows presented by successive managements from Robert C Buchanan to the local authority era. The most influential was the Popplewell family who owned and operated the Gaiety from 1925 to 1973, and who created the famous ‘Gaiety Whirl’ summer revue seasons. These ten chapters are an enlargement of Moore’s economical and more critical 1976 history, Ayr Gaiety: the theatre made famous by the Popplewells. This is brought up date by recording the years of local authority management and the council’s disconsolate efforts to maintain the Gaiety as the home of Scottish variety. Listing the obligatory cascade of stars – from Sir Harry Lauder to Andy Stewart, Arthur Roberts to Jack Milroy and Rikki Fulton, Will Fyffe to Gregor Fisher – Moore rates the Gaiety as ‘one of the most significant theatres in the British Isles’. However, there is no critical comparison made with other theatres to argue and verify such an extravagant distinction. In reality, the Gaiety is now an unambitious but highly-subsidised one-night stand house.
The Gaiety (ISBN 0 901567 26 4 ) is published by South Ayrshire Council, 2001 and available (price £24.95) from the Gaiety Theatre,
For South Ayrshire Council, Paul Iles wrote two external reviews of the Gaiety Theatre: most recently via RGA Consulting, Edinburgh, in August 2008. This study examined options for refurbishing the theatre, made recommendations for new governance arrangements and a management team, plus external partnerships and funding, as well as reviewing operations and the future of the recently refurbished Ayr Town Hall, and Troon Halls.
For programming at the Gaiety, this chart shows the emphasis on light entertainment, concerts and other one night stands familiar in many mid-scale civic theatres today: