AS cinemas and entertainment venues plan to reopen, we are taking a look back to the history of theatre which has always been much loved in Worcester.

This playbill is one of a collection from the historic Worcester Theatre Royal and the current Swan Theatre.

The collection includes playbills, posters and programmes, many of which date from the mid-nineteenth century onwards. The playbills in the collection are generally smaller than the posters and their uses were more varied.

Some would have been posted up and displayed, particularly the larger ones and those on thicker paper, but most would have been given away for free.

They were often used as publicity flyers before the show, particularly by actors trying to sell tickets, and were also given out to playgoers on the night as makeshift programmes of the evening’s performance.

This particular playbill takes us back to Thursday, January 30, 1890. With just a few nights of the pantomime ‘Forty Thieves’ left to run, Mrs Gomersal – a retired actress who still occasionally performs – is having her benefit night.

Accompanying her onstage is her daughter Louise, who later married the actor WJ Manning and would continue her career in his theatre company. Also joining the troupe is Fred Acton, playing Ali Baba in this production, a regular performer in Gomersal’s pantomimes who most often played the Dame.

Built and opened in 1781 by actor-manager James Whitley, the first Worcester Theatre was a small, plain, sturdy brick building which incorporated standard items like fanlight windows into its construction.

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It enjoyed nearly a century of production in the initial building, during which it was permitted to call itself Theatre Royal in 1805.

By 1874 however, it was proving too small and cramped for the increasingly elaborate Victorian productions and was re-built by the renowned theatre architect CJ Phipps, in a similar style to that of a Venetian palazzo.

It now had up-to-date facilities both for actors and scenery, and a larger and more comfortable auditorium which seated 1,600 and had perfect acoustics.

After many decades of entertaining the people of Worcester, the beautiful Victorian theatre closed in 1955 and was demolished in 1960 due to fire damage – happily, the Swan Theatre was opened in 1965 and has continued the tradition of theatre in the city ever since.

Our museums are now open for visitors, and there are lots of ways to discover our collections online too. Did you know the curators of Museums Worcestershire publish a blog every Friday where you can find out more about items like this playbill?

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