7 Reasons to visit Glasgow's Britannia Panopticon
Glasgow is a city of surprises, and we aren’t just talking about the unexpected things that sometimes appear in a weegie munchie box. There is history around every corner, and really no excuse not to go exploring to find out about some of the hidden gems tucked away behind Greggs shops and artisan coffee places (plus you’re never far from a nice drink and a steak bake afterwards to reward your efforts – everyone wins). Most people probably know that Glasgow is home to the word’s oldest surviving music hall [if you didn’t – insert amazed emoji here] but few might have actually popped along to see it, and even fewer might know more about it than its prestigious position as a truly old-school entertainment venue. Check out our list of reasons to visit, and let us know if you run into any ghosts still wandering after having been summoned during the late nineteenth century craze for séances and spooky tales. It wouldn’t surprise us in the slightest.
1. It’s actually available for you to go and look at
And yes, this unassuming little sign really is the way in. What we mean, of course, is that music halls and entertainment venues in our lovely city do have an unfortunate habit of burning down. The very first Castle Yard Booth theatre may have been simply in the wrong place at the wrong time – it was built against the exterior wall of the bishop’s palace, quickly identified as a ‘Den of Iniquity’ and burnt to a cinder to prevent further corruption of the good Christian Glaswegians in the mid 1750’s. In 1793, the Tron was set on fire, Queen Street Theatre in 1829 Barrowland Ballroom in 1958, the Theatre Royal more recently in 1963… well, you get the picture. Rumour has it, however , that so many people had relieved themselves on the floor of the music hall in its early years that the damp, urine soaked wood can no longer be a fire hazard. No, honestly. It’s pretty gross, but the music hall always was the badly-behaved little sibling of the prestigious theatres of society. Think of it a bit like today’s music festival: debauchery, raucousness and alcohol have the combined power of eliminating any regard for normal toilet rules, and no matter how funny it is when you have ‘light sabre’ fights with your mates behind the queued-out portaloos at TITP, you can bet that people hundreds of years ago were doing it first.
2. It will make you feel like you’ve stepped back in time
Okay so we may have cheated a bit on this photo and gone sepia cos it is just the best #filter for the vibes, but come on. Look at this. Can you believe it was hiding upstairs from an old amusement arcade? As well as the incredibly intact balcony and ceiling, all sorts of relics have been discovered and are on display, from dresses to photos and instruments. You can almost hear the first acts coming on to warm up the crowd. Speaking of…
3. You get bragging rights for visiting the location of Stan Laurel’s debut
We’ve all got to start somewhere, am I right? Eagle-eyed pedestrians may already have clocked the wee plaque outside the music hall, commemorating this spot as the beginning of the illustrious career of Stan Laurel. Son of the owner of the Metropole Music Hall just around the corner, Stan dreamed of taking to the stage and persuaded the Panopticon owner, AE Pickard, to let him have a go a few weeks before his 16th birthday. Having created a fib about his whereabouts and nicked his dad’s best suit for the occasion, Stan’s jokes went down like a sack of tatties (tatties may have even been thrown, it was that bad), but the magic happened when a shocked Stan nearly fell off the stage with shock at spotting his fuming father in the front row, from whom he had tried so hard to keep the debut a secret. He dropped his hat, kicked it into the audience and somehow got tangled in a trapeze artist’s ropes. The audience were in stitches and a slapstick legend was born, but whether it was all just disastrous or part of the show? We’ll never know for sure.
4. They run some of the coolest events in town
Well, they have been entertaining for hundreds of years, and see no reason to stop now. In the true spirit of old-school glamour and fun, the Panopticon regularly hosts the Drag-opticon Show, a celebration of Glasgow’s flourishing Queen scene (check out more about the real Glasgow drag queens here), The Cine-variety show and The Big Varetié – a cabaret show, to name but a few. If you fancy an alternative night out where you can support an amazing local building, AND have fun, then what more could you possibly need? You can see the up-to-date events programme here. Plus…
5. The Bar is Back in Action
The recent news that the Hall has been granted a bar/entertainment license, thanks to the tireless work of the team who keep it all alive, is especially exciting. Whilst nobody wants to return to the ‘urine soaked wood’ days (see point 1) there is definitely something distinctly classy about enjoying some good old fashioned show fun with a wee glass in hand.
6. Perhaps you’ll be up on that stage someday soon
Fancy yourself a wee dancer, do ya? If you are glued to the sofa for Strictly season (and tapping away and occasionally practicing in the living room) then the dancing at the hall is for you. From social dancing to swing for beginners, there’s something for everyone. You might feel like you have actually travelled back in time for a while, and you can rest assured that the tapping feet will be amongst good company in a hall that’s hosted countless dancers over the centuries. Keep up with their Facebook page for all the info.
7. They rely on wonderful people coming to wonderful shows to keep the magic happening
The entertainment license now means that ticket prices will go a long way to covering the cost of keeping such a special building looking her best, but (as explained in the vid above) the toilets could do with a wee facelift and although the hall looks good for 165ish years, anyone would need some TLC after that length of time. Get along to a show, and send a wee donation along via the GoFundMe page here. Your hall needs you, Glasgow!