The largest theatre space in the city, where the programme covers blockbuster musicals, rock legends and comedy’s A-list
Owned by the Ambassador Theatre group, the Playhouse is the largest and one of the most iconic theatre spaces in Edinburgh, not to mention one of the largest non-sport theatres in the UK, with a capacity of just over 3,000. Opened in 1929, it was originally intended as a variety hall, although a change of heart by the owners mid-construction saw it run as a cinema from the very start. Designed by Glasgow architect John Fairweather, its design took inspiration from the Roxy Theatre in New York.
The cinema boomed in its early years, and stars including Marlene Dietrich, Yul Brynner and Laurel and Hardy all visited, until a downturn in demand for auditoriums of such a size led to the building’s closure in 1973 (ironically, or perhaps intentionally, the last film to be screened was ‘Live and Let Die’). Despite the lack of business, though, the Playhouse remained an iconic location in the hearts of Edinburgh people. In the face of threats to rip it down and put an office block in its place, the Edinburgh Playhouse Society was formed, forcing the council to put a preservation order on the building and eventually reopen it as a theatre in 1980.
Since then the Playhouse has passed through numerous commercial hands, ending up with Ambassador in 2010. Although initially it built a reputation as a home for big-name rock concerts, in recent years it has been used more as a venue for large-scale touring musical theatre shows, which appear on the bill on an almost weekly basis. The programme is still broad, though, often incorporating large comedy shows, tribute acts, dance performances and rock concerts, with artists like Neil Young, Tom Waits, Nick Cave and Al Green having appeared in recent times. It also contains its own pre-show cocktail bar and restaurant, The Boards.