The annual Student Show is an integral part of the Aberdeen Students’ Charities Campaign, helping to raise hundreds of thousands of pounds for local charities. Written, produced and performed by students from all of the higher educational institutions in Aberdeen, it is the only show of its kind in the UK, and regularly performs to large audiences during its residence at His Majesty’s Theatre in April each year.
The first student show was held in 1921 as part of a Gala Week run in aid of the Aberdeen Hospitals and took the form of a ‘Mock Trial’ held in the Debating Chamber of Marischal College. The first ‘official’ show, Stella the Bajanella, was held in 1922 and the increasingly ambitious productions matched by the high quality of the musical numbers heralded a steady rise in the popularity of the show. This was typified by Town and Gown, performed for the first time in 1933, which depicted notable incidents in the history of the Burgh and University.
The revue format became more popular from the 1940’s onwards. Indeed, To Meet the MacGregors (1946) was the only musical comedy staged during that decade. Written by Eric Linklater, celebrated novelist and Rector of Aberdeen University from 1945-1948, it caused controversy when the traditional Monday night ‘student’ performance was met with pennies, flour bags and stink bombs from the ‘Gods’ of His Majesty’s Theatre. These actions were denounced in the press by the Principal and the future of the student show at His Majesty’s Theatre was put in jeopardy.
The quality of the songs and musical production of the student show has always been of crucial importance to its success: numbers such as the ‘Octet’ from Hitting Back (1949) and ‘Stella the Bajanella’ from the 1922 show of the same name remained popular at student show reunions. Indeed, in 1936 and again in 1938, songs from Out for the Count and Beating Time were put on record and sold to the audience. ‘Spirit of the Show’, a song written by Reginald Barrett-Ayres, director of many shows in the 1950’s and 1960’s, was for many years the traditional end to the student show. It has also been adopted as the title of the Student Show reunion weekend organised by the University, the most recent of which was held in 2005.
Yokel Hero, the most recent production, marked the 85th year of the student show, and throughout its history the souvenir programme has been an important element of the show in terms of advertising and providing an often humerous record of former cast members and production staff.
The first souvenir programme was produced in 1927 for Northern Lights and the covers have become increasingly inventive and colourful as the years have progressed, with the larger A4 format of the programme appearing in 1967 for Jest A Minute.
The Second World War had a detrimental effect on the show in relation to the availability of costumes and props but remarkably the programme was still produced during this period despite the paper shortage caused by the war.
The most recent programme covers, which are often inspired by famous movie posters, are the work of Andy Gaffron and Yokel Hero marked the 20th Anniversary of his designs for the cover of the programme.
Special Collections also holds a number of photograph albums dating back to the 1930’s showing members of the cast in rehearsal and on stage, as well as a selection of scripts and copies of sheet music from throughout the show’s history (MSU 562, MSU 563 and MSU 1073).
To see a selection of covers through the decades, please see here.