Saturday, 21 November 2015

Treading the Boards- Scottish Music Hall and Variety Theatre

Vaudeville or Music Hall theatre was a popular form of entertainment from the 1880s. Several nights a week people from the more “polite society” used to crowd to theatres across UK and Scotland to be entertained by performances from music hall artistes who toured the country with acts and shows which sometimes toured the show circuit for several years. Theatres included the Hippodrome, Palladiam, Orpheum, Glasgow Pavillion etc. In Glasgow city alone around 1900 there were 26 theatres alone but not much is written about Scottish Music Hall and Variety Theatre.

A night at the theatre usually saw people enjoying a series of separate acts of dance, singing,comedy skits, impersonators and musicians. Sometimes the acts included magicians, jugglers, animal acts and acrobats. People would return week after week to hear their favourite songs and artists.

Often the circuit included extended family members- sisters, brothers, spouses, children. Imagine family members performing nightly with their small children sleeping in the props box. It wouldn’t be long before the kids were conscripted to perform an act of their own or tag along as back stage helpers.

These live performances declined with the growth of the silent movie and talking pictures and further still with the advent of free broadcast television in people’s own homes. Some vaudevillians found a home in variety television.

My vaudevillian family history came to life from a chance letter found in a box of papers collected at the family home. While the letter was essentially trying to find the legal recipients of an inheritance the solicitors had asked the right person - my aging Great Uncle Alf who was able to detail all his vaudevillian cousins, their Scottish address and their stage names.

Greasepaint must have been running through the McBride’s veins. Cornelius McBride was possibly the most famous of the McBride clan. 

Next blog  Cornelius McBride as Neil Power

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