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The Edinburgh Playhouse finally opened on Monday 12 August 1929 having been delayed for nearly a year after subsidence was found. Although originally designed as a variety theatre, by the time the building was completed it had been decided to open it as a ‘super’ cinema with full stage facilities and a cafe. The building was owned and run by John Patrick Maguire and designed by Glasgow architect John Fairweather. The inspiration was American - the architect went to the United States to study the latest trends. This also explains the problems with subsidence. Fairweather did not realise that the steel framed buildings that he saw there needed more than standard Victorian strip foundations. The Playhouse makes clever use of a sloping site, the vast brick bulk of the auditorium rearing up behind the clumsy symmetrical sandstone facade of eleven bays in debased classical style. A proscenium frame recess denotes the entrance between flanking shop units. Within, it is the scale which impresses most of all. The Edinburgh Playhouse is one of the largest theatres in the UK and holds over 3,000 seats on three levels. There are commodious foyers with fine terrazzo floors and a partially glazed barrel vaulted ceiling in the inner foyer. The decor is heavyweight classical with torch-bearers flanking the stairways and giant cornices everywhere. The auditorium has two massive fully cantilevered balconies. These curve to meet single stage boxes below organ grilles with fanlights, flanked by giant pilasters. Above the upper circle, truncated pilasters rise to the heavily beamed ceiling. The Playhouse closed on 23 November 1973. Demolition plans were thwarted by the 'Save the Playhouse' campaign and listed building status was granted in 1974. The Playhouse reopened as a theatre in 1980 staging mostly concerts, comedy shows and occasional operas. The Playhouse has changed hands frequently since then but following an extensive refurbishment programme by Apollo Leisure in 1993, this Edinburgh theatre has returned to its former glory and continues to thrive as one of Britain's leading theatres. It is perhaps the least beautiful of Edinburgh’s major theatres but it is among the most commercially effective, its large capacity and well equipped stage (c.13m deep) being put to good use with short runs of touring musicals.

Built / Converted
Dates of use
  • 1929 - 1973: cinema
  • 1980 : theatre, continuing
Current state
Current use
18-22 Greenside Place, Edinburgh, Lothian, EH1 3AA, Scotland
Further details
Other names
  • 1929 Design/Construction:
    John Fairweather
    - Architect
  • 1929 - 1973 Use: cinema
  • 1929 - 1973 Owner/Management: Playhouse Edinburgh Ltd
  • 1973 - 1979 Owner/Management: Maxwell Property (East) Ltd
  • 1979 - 1983 Owner/Management: Lothian Regional Council
  • 1980 Use: theatre, continuing
  • 1980 Alteration: Refurbishment and reopening June 1st 1980
  • 1983 - 1985 Owner/Management: Norman Springford, owner
  • 1985 Owner/Management: Apollo Leisure, subsequently SFX
  • 2001 Owner/Management: Clear Channel Entertainment, subsequently Live Nation UK
  • 2009 Owner/Management: Ambassador Theatre Group (owner)
  • Capacity
  • Capacity
    1951: 3048
  • Capacity
  • Listing
  • Listing
Stage type
Proscenium, flat
Building dimensions: -
Stage dimensions: Depth: c.13m
Proscenium width: 14.98m
Height to grid: -
Inside proscenium: -
Orchestra pit: -