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Himalaya

Day 34: Shimla

Michael Palin - HimalayaA flight of steps leads down from the Ridge to another Cheltenham-ish landmark, the Gaiety Theatre. It was built about the same time as the Vice-Regal Lodge, as a home for a thriving amateur dramatic club in Shimla, which gave its first performance in 1838. With few women around at that time, the female roles had to be taken by army officers, one of whom refused to shave his moustache off for a love scene.

A heavy stone exterior gives little indication of the little gem of an auditorium inside. Horseshoe shaped and decorated with carved wood and plaster of Paris stucco, it has a dress circle supported by slender columns with gold-leaf capitals. The stage, spacious for a theatre that only seats 200, has been graced by Kipling, Baden-Powell, who later founded the Boy Scouts, and more recently Felicity Kendall and legendary Indian stars like the singer K. L. Saighal and the Bollywood actor Anupam Kher.

Our visit has coincided with a performance of an early play by Michael Frayn, called Chinamen. With huge successes running currently on Broadway and in the West End, I imagine this is quite a coup for them, and have taken the trouble to ring Michael and solicit a message of support for the cast.

The director, Mrs Neelam Dewan, thanks me profusely for this, as she had been given a copy of the play without a front page and didn't know who the author was.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Himalaya
  • Chapter: Day 34: Shimla
  • Country/sea: India
  • Place: Shimla
  • Book page no: 76

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