We have a lot of fantastic theatres and entertainment on offer in Leeds now but how did it all start? From our playbills collection you can get an idea of some of the earliest theatre entertainment. The first theatre was built in Leeds in 1771 prior to which Leeds had relied on travelling companies of players who would have visited the town and performed their plays in the yards of inns like the Talbot and the Rose and Crown in Briggate. In 1771 Tate Wilkinson opened the Theatre in Hunslet Lane, just south of Leeds Bridge which could accommodate 600 people.
The earliest playbill we hold is from 1781 when the comedy ‘Dissipation’ was performed and it was noted on the playbill that this was ‘as performed at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, with great applause’ as well as ‘ the celebrated burletta Tom Thumb’.
The Theatre was only open in summer from May to July and most of the plays performed were comedies, or comic operas. As London theatres tended to close in the summer months famous actors of the days travelled with provincial companies.One such actress, Mrs Siddons visited Leeds on several occasions including one in 1786 when she performed in a tragedy ‘ Isabella’.
Pantomimes were also performed at the Theatre as well as more unusual acts such as Mr Usher and his ‘stud of real cats.
The music hall came to Leeds in 1794 when the Albion Street Music Hall was opened. The ground floor of the building was used as a cloth hall and was sometimes called Tom Paine’s hall. Upstairs was a picture gallery, a lecture room, and a larger Music Saloon, where there was room for about 850 people. The hall was mostly used for public meetings and musical concerts with Paganini playing there in January 1832. The concerts were supported by subscriptions, which admitted a gentleman and a lady to each performance. Non-subscribers had to pay 3 shillings and sixpence each.
The Music Hall also had a variety of unusual acts such as Professor Anderson who appeared in 1854 making his first appearance in Leeds since ‘his great American tour… in order to sustain his fame as the imperator of illusionists’.
To see more playbills from the Theatre and the Music Hall as well as many others visit our Leeds Playbills website www.leodis.net/playbills