Perth Repertory Theatre

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The origins of theatre in Perth can be traced back to the 16th century. More recently, Hollywood stars Ewan McGregor and Donald Sutherland learned their craft here. And great Scots have tread the boards here: Una McLean, Russell Hunter, Lesley Mackie, Colin McCreadie, Edith McArthur, Elaine C Smith, Andy Gray, Jimmy Chisholm.

Have a wander through our colourful history.

Men only: Theatre was quite different in the 16th century; women were not allowed to perform in any play or in any theatre across the country. What’s more, the management of Perth Theatre, among them Ministers and Elders of Perth, set down a rule for the stage; swearing, as expected back then, was completely forbidden.

By appointment: The theatre held a performance for Charles I in honour of his visit to Perth in 1633.

Girls allowed: Sarah Siddons, eldest child of Roger Kemble, the manager of a small travelling theatre company, worked as an actress until her final performance on the English Stage as Lady Macbeth in 1812. Following this, the Siddons leased the theatre for three years.

New boy: in 1817 Corbert Ryder opened the theatre in his first season with a play titled ‘The Stranger’.

New home: Perth High Street became home to Perth Theatre in 1899. George Alexander, at that time famous for his work with Oscar Wilde in the first production of Lady Windermere’s Fan, laid the foundation stone for the building that still houses the theatre today

Grand opening: Perth Theatre officially opened in 1900. It boasted an 800 all seated auditorium, set out in a style typical of the Victorian era. The theatre was run as a touring house and it was one of the most successful in the country.

Up in smoke: Alas, in 1924, just under a quarter of a century after opening, there was a fire in the theatre and this destroyed the dress and upper circles, and also the flooring of the gallery. The theatre re-opened five months later under new managers, Mrs & Miss Savile. They managed the theatre for eleven years before they put it up for sale and retired.

New era: When Marjorie Dence and David Steuart bought Perth Theatre in 1935, they opened the first ever repertory company in Scotland. (Marjorie Dence even designed a logo that was still being used in recent times.) The first performance under the new owners was called The Rose Without A Thorn. This was just the start of many; in the first three years 144 plays were performed, and in the following 50 years over 1,000 plays were produced.

Hard times: a none too successful period immediately followed, and the theatre was forced to close from January to April in 1937 and 1938.

In adversity: Despite all of these difficulties, the theatre put on the first Scottish Theatre Festival in July, 1939 only two months before war was declared.

Boosting morale: During the war the theatre remained closed during the winter months. Despite this the theatre still created the first ever Scottish Tour in 1941 with the help of a £200 Government Grant. It was not to be the last such tour and over the next seven years the company clocked up many tours, including a tour of the Highlands, Borders, Orkney, and Shetlands and even round Northern Ireland.

What a pantomime: In 1945, the theatre put on a pantomime of Aladdin, performing to a script co-written by Marjorie Dence. And 6 years on, the theatre ran the second Scottish Theatre Festival.

Profit sharing: During the war period and until 1946, the actors had lived and worked as a commune, sharing in any profits. By then, the play season was running for nine months of the year. Encouraged by this, the theatre started a second company in Kirkcaldy with performances also in Dunfermline. However, the second company proved not to be profitable, and was terminated after a few years.

Famous faces: In March 1951, Edward Woodward, who went on to become a famous actor, appearing in films such as A Christmas Carol, The Wicker Man, and starring in the well known long-running TV series, The Equalizer, toured Orkney and Shetland with the Perth Theatre company.

End of an era: Marjorie Dence died in 1966 and the theatre was left to the Scottish Art Council.

New direction: Iain Cuthbertson was appointed artistic director in 1967. Iain became a household name in the 70s for his acting roles in TV series Sutherland’s Law and Budgie and for movies like The Railway Children. The upper gallery or ‘gods’ was closed, reducing the capacity by 200 (from 800).

Take over bid: Perth Town council bought the building from the Scottish Arts Council in 1968. The highly regarded Joan Knight became artistic director and introduced fortnightly rep.
40 years on: An all-star concert was staged in 1975 to commemorate Perth Theatre’s 40th Anniversary as a Repertory Company.

Personal space: over the course of the century it transpired that people had grown by 1.25%, so in1981 refurbishments began in the auditorium to make room for everyone. The capacity was reduced again from 600 to 490. Carried out over 4 years, the refurb included the building of a new restaurant, large workshop, new dressing rooms and stage facilities.

A star is born: in 1987 Ewan Mcgregor left school aged 16 and started his acting career at Perth. He worked as a stagehand at the theatre and had small roles in productions while he saved funds for a trip to London to audition at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts.

History in the making: in summer 2001 the box office area was upgraded and accessibility improved. During the refurb, a pillar was removed and a time capsule uncovered. It had been buried in the foundations in 1899 and included the 4 Oct 1889 Dundee Courier, a programme from the stone laying ceremony, photos of the party and a prospectus that showed the building had cost £4,500 including the land. The capsule was reburied with current newspapers and programme brochures for 2001.

Looking good: style changes were made front of house in 2005 as Horsecross emerged to run the theatre and new concert hall and the café bar restaurant transformed into Redrooms.

And today: Perth Theatre is a dynamic and forward looking part of the Horsecross organisation. As well as putting on contemporary and traditional, home grown and international theatre, the company is working with schools, groups and organisations to bring the theatre and its creativity to the community as well as bringing the community to the theatre.

The future of Perth Theatre: We have ambitious and transformational plans for Perth Theatre which include restoring and conserving our historic theatre auditorium, adding a new 225 capacity performance space, building new creative learning spaces for our ever expanding youth and community group activities and to improve access and circulation throughout the building.

Perth Repertory Theatre Jobs

For details of known Perth Repertory Theatre vacancies, please check our jobs board for more information

Alternative Company Names

Horsecross, Horsecross (Perth Theatre), Horsecross Arts, Horsecross Arts Ltd, Perth Rep, Perth Rep Theatre, Perth Theatre