Gaiety Theatre building, Shimla, India, by Henry Irwin

The Gaiety Theatre, Shimla. This is a stone-built building completed in 1888, originally as part of a huge town hall complex in the neo-Gothic style, spanning the Mall and the Ridge. Designed by Henry Irwin, it was built to reflect what Pamela Kanwar calls "the social milieu of the 'upper five hundred.'" Kanwar explains that it

included all that British society needed: a theatre, a library, a large hall for suppers, balls, exhibitions and durbars; and a police station and weapons for protection. The ground floor consisted of the Gaiety Theatre, a Masonic Hall with a vaulted entrance, the municipal offices and the police station. The first floor contained the gallery of the theatre, the library, two reading rooms and a hall for holding public meetings.... The second floor consisted of a large ballroom and two retiring rooms. This floor also had a drawing room, a bar and a card room. [61-62]

The style of the whole place aroused some controversy, however. The Viceroy's wife, Lady Dufferin, found it anomalous: she described it as "something like a cathedral, but which inside is a collection of places of amusement"; a later guidebook dismissed the completed building as "bastard Gothic" (both qtd. in Kanwar 62).

Left: Internal vaulting, under restoration. Right: Amateur Dramatic Club entrance. [Click on these images to enlarge them.]

As for the Gaiety Theatre itself, this was a major focus of social life in the hill station: "Young army officers and their wives, they took to greasepaint and the boards like a duck takes to water," explains the current Shimla Guide rather picturesquely. The young Rudyard Kipling became very much a part of this scene on his visits to Simla. One of his appearances at the Gaiety was as Brisemouche in Sardou's popular farce, A Scrap of Paper. The Viceroy, Lord Dufferin, found his performance "too horrid and vulgar" (qtd. in Allen 243).

Early in the twentieth century, the original upper storeys of the structure had to be removed for safety reasons, and a large new mock-Tudor municipal building was erected nearby. But the Gaiety Theatre on the Mall level continued in use, and there is still a "Police Assistance Room" alongside it. The Amateur Dramatic Club's coat of arms is still displayed over the Ridge entrance, too, and stairs from that entrance lead up to a clubroom and other amenities, including the bar. The club clearly continues to flourish. There is a new slate roof, and a great deal of rebuilding and restoration is now under way at the site.

Photographs, captions and commentary by Jacqueline Banerjee. You may use these images without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the photographer and (2) link your document to this URL or cite the Victorian Web in a print document.

Related Material


Allen, Charles. Kipling Sahib: India and the Making of Rudyard Kipling. London: Little Brown, 2007.

Kanwar, Pamela. Imperial Simla: The Political Culture of the Raj. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2nd ed. 2003.

Shimla Guide with Map. Nest & Wings, 2007.

Last modified 1 July 2015