Imagine Shimla at the height of its glory. A horse drawn wagon pulling up the Ridge road or the graceful ladies all dressed in bonnets and stylish umbrellas sauntering the Mall road; the well brought up gentleman discussing politics and literature in a coffee house on a rainy day. These are wishful reminiscences. So many things have changed. But some things remained just the way it was then.
A tourist from England told me that she still feels there are a ‘lot of English left in the Town’. She even met an old shopkeeper, who speaks with old fashioned British accent, which has become a rarity even in England. And there are important buildings which have survived from the time Shimla was once the summer capital of the British Raj. Gaiety Theatre is one such buildings that brings back the old and grandeur memories of those bygone eras.
Gaiety Theatre was part of the large town hall complex. Designed by the renowned English architect Henry Irwin the theatre was built in the gothic style. It was first opened in 1887, which was Queen Victoria’s jubilee year. The theatre can accommodate more than 300 people. There are special seats for the Viceroy, Army officers and the Indian Rajas. The room is acoustic, which means even a slight snap at the centre of the stage can be heard from any corner of the room. Though minor renovations have been done, nothing much has changed. The screen on the stage which was designed by Henry Irwin is still being used today.
Gaiety theatre has a rich history. It was the centre for entertainment and socialization. Viceroy Lord Lytton wrote and staged a play called ‘Walpole’. Many officers actively took part in writing or acting on stage. Rudyard Kipling a bright star in literary world acted in ‘a scrap of paper’. The locals have carried on the traditions after the British left. There are lots of Dramatic societies in Shimla today. Renowned Bollywood actors and singers have performed here too. Most recently Michael Palin, a renowned name in entertainment shot inside the theatre for his travel documentary ‘Himalaya’.
Lately, a lot of renovation has taken place. The place looked dashing and grand. It is the only Gothic theatre in Asia and among six such theaters in the World. Spare the time to visit this wonder when you visit Shimla, You’ll take back more than you can imagine.