History and Heritage
Perth Theatre's Past
"If the interior was beautiful by day, it was absolutely gorgeous by night... a theatrical gem of its kind..." Perthshire Advertiser, 7 September, 1900
Perth Theatre is one of Scotland’s oldest and best-loved producing theatres with a rich artistic history dating back to the 16th century. Back then the theatre was managed by the ministers and elders of Perth and strict rules were in place for performers – including no swearing and no women on stage!
The theatre as it stands today opened on Perth High Street in 1900 and at the time it boasted an 800-seat auditorium. The foundation stone of the beautiful B-listed building was laid in 1899 by George Alexander, famous for his work with Oscar Wilde and when it opened the following year the interior was described as "one of the finest in Scotland."
In 1935 Perth Theatre was bought by Marjorie Dence and David Steuart. The new owners set up Perth Repertory Company – the first of its kind in Scotland – and kick-started a prolific period for the theatre, staging over 140 plays in the following three years. Perth went on to host the first Scottish Theatre Festival in 1939 and was the first company to tour the Scottish Highlands in the 1940s.
In 1968, Joan Knight was appointed as Perth Theatre's Artistic Director. During her long and successful tenure, she introduced a hugely popular fortnightly rep, oversaw a major rebuilding programme and supported the careers of many celebrated actors from Scotland and beyond, including Philip Lowrie, Una MacLean, Leon Sinden, Walter Carr, Rikki Fulton, Martyn James, Clare Richards, James Fleet, Kevin Whately and Jason Connery. Her reign is fondly remembered and she is known as the first lady of Scottish theatre.
Throughout its history a number of star acts have been known to tread the boards at Perth Theatre, including a young Alec Guinness and Donald Sutherland. More recently Perth’s own Ewan McGregor began his acting career here - Ewan is also Project Ambassador of Transform Perth Theatre, much to the delight of our thousands of community participants!
During the refurbishment of the Box Office in 2001, a time capsule from 1899 was discovered buried in the foundations. It contained a copy of the Dundee Courier from the 4th October 1899, a programme from the stone-laying ceremony and wonderful photos of the big day. The capsule was reburied with newspapers and theatre programmes from 2001.
Perth Theatre Memory Collective
We have artefacts, memorabilia and costumes stretching all the way back to 1935 along with a treasure trove of memories and associations that have ensured a place for Perth Theatre at the heart of cultural and community life in the Fair City for more than a century.
Thanks to a generous contribution from the Heritage Lottery Fund we are embarking on a project, in conjunction with our redevelopment plans, to reveal, research and interpret the history and heritage of Perth Theatre. We will create a completely re-vamped and extended archive accessible to all the first time.
Perth Theatre Memory Collective, was a voluntary group that helped us gather community recollections for the benefit of future audiences, building on the extensive archives already held in AK Bell Library.