MANDY COLLINS investigates the spooky Theatre Royal in Glasgow – one of the city’s oldest and most famous entertainment venues
Walking past a theatre in Glasgow, I can’t help but say to my husband, “That’s haunted.” He’s probably been told The Theatre Royal has a ghost every time we pass. There are lots of theatres in Glasgow: the city was notorious for having the hardest audiences in the country to play for. Unpopular artistes would be belted off stage with rotten fruit. And it being an industrial city, rivets from the shipyards would be included in the fruity barrage. Having seen an old riveter’s kit, I really wouldn’t want to be hit by one!
Theatre Royal, Hope St is the oldest theatre in Glasgow, originally opened as the Royal Colosseum and Opera house in 1867 and renamed the Theatre Royal in 1867. It has been home to Scottish Television, Scottish Opera and now Scottish Ballet. So quite an illustrious place. It was destroyed by a fire in 1875, when it was refurbished to how it looks today.
The ghost stories of this theatre are a little more concrete than other Glasgow theatres. There are a few tales to tell. Ghostly activity was first recorded in the upper circle with the sounds of moaning, the sense of some invisible presence and doors banging. This is the doings of a ghost called ‘Nora’, The story goes that she was a cleaning lady who dreamed of being an actress. She annoyed the manager about it until she finally got an audition. Unfortunately she was meant to be so bad she was laughed off stage. Heartbroken, she committed suicide out of shame. It’s not known when the story first appeared. Although Geoff Holder attributes it’s origins to a play that transferred to the theatre from London in 1894 called A Life of Pleasure, whose main character is a woman called Norah Hanlan. She is seduced and abandoned, ending up as a prostitute. The cad who had his way with her then feels guilty and ends up committing suicide. Holder argues that the ghost of Nora in the theatre could be an example of reality and fiction meeting to spin a little piece of theatre folklore. Although strange things still occur. In 2006 or 2007, a workman busy in a roof space was hit on the head with a flyer. The vestibule and hall are reported to have an unpleasant atmosphere by staff.
Another ghost is that of a fireman who died in a fire in 1969. The Fire Brigade were called to tackle an electrical fire, and Sub Officer Archibald McLang of Queens Park. Foam had been used to try and kill the fire. A group of firemen, including McLang entered the theatre from Hope Street. It’s not quite known what happened, but his dead body was found the next day. He’s been seen staring at musicians in the orchestra pit. One musician in the 1970s reported the ghost sitting in the corner of a room wearing his outdated uniform. He still causes activity in the basement, playing havoc with another workman and his tools in 2004.
Peter Underwood, the prolific British ghost hunter also encountered poltergeist activity in the theatre during the 1970s when it was home to Scottish Television. And he’d only turned up to be interviewed as opposed to look into the ethereal residents – maybe they wanted to put on a show just for him!
The theatre still entertains many punters, living and passed on, to this day.