There have been two sites for Theatres Royal in Edinburgh, the first in Shakespeare Square (the site of the GPO, now Waverley Gate and home from 2011 to Creative Scotland), built in 1769 for the actor-manager David Ross, closed 1859.
The second was built by Stephen Kemble in 1790, known as the Queen's Theatre & Opera House and twelve other names until the patent transferred in 1859. It stood at the top of Leith Walk on Broughton Street. Its best known other names were The Pantheon, The Caledonian and The Adelphi Theatre. This Theatre Royal was gutted by fire on five occasions, the last being in 1946. Four large medallions from the second Theatre Royal were salvaged by Sir James Dunbar-Nasmith – these were installed in the foyer walls of Edinburgh Festival Theatre when it opened in 1994. Molière, Shakespeare, Dante and Sir Walter Scott are flanked by several posters from this Theatre Royal.
The following playbills are from the 1849-1850 season at the first Theatre Royal, from the Laughing Audience collection:
Scotland for learning and for arms renown’d
In ancient annals, is with lustre crown’d,
And still she shares whate’er the world can yield,
Of lettered fame or glory in the arts;
In every distant clime Great Britain knows,
The Thistle springs promiscuous from the Rose.
While in all points with other lands she vied,
The Stage alone to Scotland was denied…
In later years the Arts of Mirth and Awe,
Have both been freed from irksome scourge of law;
Yet still they both are cramped for lack of space:
Ballet cowers; Opera hides her face;
The Drama shrinks and fails our hungry age;
Where may the Muse now tread a proper stage?
Lo, back from the darkness, th’Empire now appears,
Her gloom re-gilded, Silence changed for Cheers!
Given by Russell Hunter, written by Neil Bartlett and Paul Iles, after James Boswell’s Prologue to the opening of the Theatre Royal, Edinburgh 1769.
Barbara Bell, ‘The Nineteenth Century’, in Bill Findlay. (ed.), A History of Scottish Theatre, Edinburgh, Polygon, 1998, pp.137-206.
John Jackson, History of the Scottish Stage, Edinburgh, Peter Hill, 1793. [reissued with introduction by Donald Campbell, Bristol, Thoemmes Press, 1996].
James Grant, Old and New Edinburgh, London, Cassell Petter Galpin & Co., 1890, Vol. II, Ch. 5, pp. 348-353.
James C Dibdin, Annals of the Edinburgh Stage, Edinburgh, Richard Cameron, 1888.
National Library of Scotland: Playbills of the Theatre Royal, Edinburgh.
Peter Stubbs' website: EdinPhoto for Edinburgh history. (Thanks for this image of the Demolition of the Theatre Royal, 1859).
See the searchable catalogue of the Scottish Theatre Archive, University of Glasgow Library Special Collections.
Christopher B Balme, ‘Playbills and the Theatrical Public Sphere’, in Charlotte M Canning and Thomas Postlewait, Representing the Past: Essays in Performance Historiography, Iowa, University of Iowa Press, 2010, pp.37-62.
A well-regulated theatre will not only be an inducement to students to come to Edinburgh but of infinite utility to those in particular who are to speak in public and to the people in general as a standard of the English language. – from the Prospectus for building a Theatre Royal in Edinburgh 1768.