The National Library of Scotland holds a rich collection of material that charts both the development of live performance and the story of the theatre industry in Scotland from the 19th century onwards.
In the Scottish Theatre Programmes database, we have put together a snapshot of what the Library has in this area, as a starting point for exploring our collections. The database continues to expand, as new items reach the Library through legal deposit, donation and purchase in the course of each year.
Signs of change
Over the period reflected in the database there has been a gradual move away from the variety-theatre style of the late 1800s towards larger-stage productions of opera, ballet and West End musicals.
The subject matter of the shows also reflects sociological changes that have occurred since the 19th century. Over the decades the types of production became more diverse, too. This was particularly noticeable in the 1960s and '70s, when material that once would have been considered unsuitable became more acceptable on the public stage, and anti-establishment themes were more widely adopted.
Strong Scottish showing
Several venues have attracted performances and performers from around the world, but Scottish performing talent is also a hallmark of this collection.
Forming a good proportion of the collection are programmes for performances by Scottish Opera, Scottish Ballet, Royal Lyceum Theatre Company, Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Edinburgh Gateway Theatre Company, Scottish Chamber Orchestra, and Scottish Baroque Ensemble.
For records for individual companies and other theatres, and for performances in the Edinburgh International Festival and Fringe Festival, search our main catalogue.
Content of programmes
The content of the material varies.
Worth noting are two long and largely unbroken runs of programmes for the King's Theatre Edinburgh (1907-) and the Royal Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh (1883-).
Not only are these theatrical history sources, but through their adverts and announcements they provide social and local historians with valuable insights into Scottish cultural and social life.
Some programmes are rich in their coverage of the performances, and short biographies and details of the performers' theatrical training and careers often are included. In the case of classical music concerts, information about the composers or the story behind particular compositions is sometimes featured.
- NLS main catalogue — Contains records of most of our theatres material
- Playbills from the Theatre Royal, Edinburgh — Digitised 19th century playbills from the Library's collections
- The Weir Collection — More than 500 playbills, posters, programmes, photographs and newspaper cuttings from the 19th century; one of our Special and Named Printed Collections
- Theatre archives in the Library's manuscripts collections