The Edinburgh Playhouse opened its doors for the first time at 2pm on Monday 12 August 1929. Although originally designed as a variety theatre, by the time the building was completed it had been decided to open it as a cinema. The first film to be screened was ‘The Doctor’s Secret’ an adaptation of JM Barrie’s short play ‘Half an Hour’.
The building was owned and run by the Maguire family and was designed by Glasgow architect John Fairweather. On a fact finding trip to America he was impressed by the splendour of the Roxy Theatre in New York and some of its features were said to have inspired the final designs for the Playhouse.
It continued to operate as a successful cinema for over forty years, during which time a number of stars paid a visit, including Marlene Dietrich, Yul Brynner and Laurel and Hardy.
By 1973 the down turn in the cinema business made it impossible to make a profit from such a large single screen venue. Splitting it into a multi screen was considered too costly and so the building was put up for sale. The cinema closed down on the 24 November 1973, with ‘Live and Let Die’ being the last film to be screened.
It was sold to a property developer who applied for planning permission to build an office block and began to arrange for demolishing of the Playhouse. Planning permission was turned down, but the threat of demolition hung over the building for some time.
Soon after the cinema closed Gordon Lucas and Larry McGuire, former employees of the Playhouse, set up the Playhouse Preservation Action Group and began a campaign to save the Playhouse. 15,000 signatures were collected and eventually the Secretary of State placed a class B preservation order on the building.
In 1975 the Edinburgh Playhouse Society was formed. This organisation was particularly interested in seeing the Playhouse being reopened and used for Opera and Ballet. Another petition was started and a further 13,500 signatures were collected.
After more than four years of campaigning the Lothian Regional Council finally agreed to buy the Playhouse and turn it into a multipurpose venue. The cinema was refurbished and opened as a fully functional theatre on 1 June 1980 with a charity gala in aid of the Variety Club of Great Britain.
Since then the Playhouse has changed hands on a number of occasions. Initially into those of a local businessman and subsequently to Apollo Leisure, SFX, Clear Channel Entertainment, Livenation and, as of 2010, The Ambassador Theatre Group.
Over the years the theatre has played host to the world's biggest and most successful musicals, including Phantom of the Opera, Chicago, Grease, Cats, Les Miserables, Miss Saigon, Mamma Mia, Starlight Express, Mary Poppins and We Will Rock You. Many legendary bands and artists have also graced our stage including Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Tom Waits, BB King, Runrig, The Who, Metallica, Ozzy Osbourne, U2 and Johnny Cash.
Like every theatre the Playhouse has its resident ghost. He first appeared in the 1950s when a security guard had called the police to investigate noises coming from level 6 in the north tower. The guard was shocked to hear that on investigation the policeman had found no evidence of a break in, but had met Albert the maintenance manager who had assured him that everything was fine. Albert was indeed the maintenance manager, but he had died many years earlier!