29 September 2018 (10:00-16:00 - Tours at 10:00, 12:00 and 14:00)
In 1901, the 7th Volunteer Battalion ‘The Gordon Highlanders’ was formed in Shetland. HQ and facilities were subsequently required. On 22 July 1903 Captain Commandant Moffat of the Battalion laid the memorial stone of the new building, with the formal inauguration taking place on 17 September 1904. It could never have been envisaged at the time that “Da Dreel Haal” would serve the community for over a century and become the much loved “Garrison Theatre”.
The Drill Hall/Gymnasium measured 21.3m by 10m, and the various gymnastic apparatus could be cleared away to leave floor space for drill. The building also contained a Recreation and Lecture Room, Anteroom, Armoury and Toilet. The Commanding Officer and adjutant had a room upstairs, adjoining the Officers’ Mess. A Gymnasium Club was formed which was open to Shetland residents of both sexes and all ages. Running costs were met by grants from Zetland County Council, Lerwick Town Council and public donations. The Club employed a qualified instructor and within three weeks of opening there were a total of 238 members.
Following the outbreak of war in 1914, Lerwick became an important naval base and the Drill Hall was required for wartime use. After the war, the Territorial Army (TA) was not in operation and the Hall continued to be used for badminton, with the adjacent rooms let as offices including estate offices for the Garth Estate. Following mobilisation of the TA in 1939, the hall was requisitioned as headquarters for the Shetland Defence Battalion and later for the 7th Battalion Black Watch. The population of Shetland doubled with the influx of servicemen and initially the building was used as an army meat store and canteen.
In 1940 ENSA, (Entertainments National Service Association), commandeered the hall as a theatre to entertain service personnel. It was soon dubbed the “Garrison Theatre” and following conversion to a proper theatre by the Royal Engineers and Pioneers it was officially named so when it reopened on 7 December 1941. Now completely transformed with a sloping stage, full stage lighting, cinema projectors and screen the theatre remained in use until the end of the war. It was constantly filled to capacity as army personnel and locals alike were entertained by servicemen, touring concert parties, film shows and famous celebrities. In February 1943 the well-known stage and film comedian George Formby and his wife paid a flying visit and in August the equally well-known and popular Gracie Fields entertained the troops.
A complete refurbishment of the theatre was carried out in 1989 and “Da Garrison” was reopened on 31 October 1990 by SIC Convener Edward Thomason, OBE. Shetland Islands Council with Shetland Arts Trust, now Shetland Arts, have been responsible for the operation of Garrison Theatre since 2006. At the present time, despite the opening of Mareel in 2012, the 280 seated Garrison Theatre facilitates the provision of a varied annual programme of community and professional shows, including live theatre, fiddle competitions, stand up comedy, concerts, dance and pantomime.
For more information on the Garrison Theatre, visit the Shetland Arts website here.
Building Date: 1903
Facilitated by Friends of the Garrison, for Doors Open Days there will be tours of the public, backstage and technical areas of the building! These tours will begin at 10am, 12pm and 2pm, and will last approx. 45 minutes. Come along and visit the foyer, auditorium, lighting box, stage area, props room, store and dressing rooms.
Visitors will find out about the history of the building and can take part in a range of activities. Photographs of building and its usage will be featured in the foyer.
An activity sheet for children will also be available.