The Edinburgh Playhouse opened its doors for the first time in 1929. It was originally designed as a variety theatre, but by the time the building was complete it had been decided to open it as a cinema.
Designed by Glaswegian architect John Fairweather, many aspects of the Playhouse are said to be influenced by the famous Roxy Theatre in New York, which Fairweather and his team had visited for inspiration.
At its opening, the Playhouse was Scotland’s second largest cinema with a seating capacity of 3,040. The first film screened was The Doctor’s Secret an adaptation of JM Barrie’s short play Half an Hour. It continued to operate as a very 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 downturn 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 on the 24 November 1973, with Live and Let Die being the last film to be screened.
Sold to a property developer, the future of the building was in jeopardy for many years. Two organizations, the Playhouse Preservation Action Group and the Edinburgh Playhouse Society were set up to campaign for its survival.
Planning permission for demolition and a new office block was turned down and a class B preservation order was placed on the building. Eventually the local council agreed to buy the building and reopened it as a fully functional theatre on 1 June 1980.
The Playhouse today is known for hosting a huge range of shows including, large-scale musicals, opera and ballet, concerts and comedy as well as being a major venue for the Edinburgh International Festival.