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- Category: A
- Date Added: 12/12/1974
- Supplementary Information Updated: 06/06/2008
- Local Authority: Edinburgh
- Planning Authority: Edinburgh
- Burgh: Edinburgh
National Grid Reference
- NGRNT 26120 74384
- Coordinates326120, 674384
John Fairweather, 1927-1929. Classical, symmetrical 2-storey and attic, 11-bay theatre-cinema with shops to ground and exceptional decorative interior. Polished ashlar, brick and glazed brick to rear. Band course and dentilled main cornice dividing 1st and attic floor; deep cill course to attic floor; eaves cornice; balustraded parapet (solid parapet to advanced pavilions). Pilasters dividing bays to 1st floor. Regular fenestration (irregular to rear and side elevations); aediculed 1st floor windows to advanced pavilions; recessed margins to attic windows.
W (PRINCIPAL) ELEVATION: 1-bay advanced pavilions at outer left and right. 4, 2-leaf timber and 8-pane glazed doors with letterbox fanlights to centre 3 bays, set in opening with panelled ingoes and soffit and blocked reeded surround. Flanking to left and right, 3-bay shopfronts; large windows to left and right with curved profiles into recessed doorway to centre; timber fascia with surmounting dentilled cornice above. To pavilion at right, 1-bay shopfront with windows at left and right curving towards recessed doorway at centre; timber fascia, dentilled cornice. To pavilion at left, full width recessed opening with glazing above. Attic floor cill course to central 3 bays raised to form parapet, flanked left and right by pedestals supporting globes.
Plate glass to ground floor; plate glass with margined glazing pattern to upper floors. To W, pitched roof, grey slate, stone skews; flat roof to E section.
INTERIOR: impressive, opulent interior decoration with much original material extant. Outer foyer: Ionic pilasters, coffered ceiling with cavetto and bay-leaf garland cornicing. Inner foyer: coffered barrel vaulted ceiling, top-lit stained glass centre sections. Block-cornice, egg-and dart moulding. Classically detailed timber door-pieces at left and right. Above inner and outer foyers at 1st floor are large function rooms, similarly decorated, one with windows with coloured glass decoration. Auditorium: cantilevered circle and balcony, both semi-elliptically fronted. Cavetto architraved proscenium arch with splayed flanking sections. Double-coved coffered ceiling, featuring block-cornice. Lavish decorative details throughout, of mixed classical and rococo style. Blind Serlian motifs at upper level.
Statement of Special Interest
The Playhouse is a significant and rare example of an early dual-purpose super theatre-cinema, constructed on a huge scale by the well-known cinema architect John Fairweather. Built as a venue which could accommodate both film and live performance, the building is particularly important for its opulent interior décor which remains substantially intact. There are abundant Classical motifs and a particularly spectacular auditorium, notable not only for its scale but also for its lavish decoration. The symmetrical elevation to Greenside Place is a key part of the local streetscape.
The Playhouse theatre was built as a cine-variety theatre, capable of presenting large scale live variety shows as well as films. Following a study tour by Fairweather in the USA, with a view to planning the Playhouses in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Dundee, it was designed on the model of similar theatres built by Lamb in New York. The Playhouse opened on 12th August, 1929, with both talking and silent films on the bill; contemporary advertising described it as 'Scotland's Super Picture Theatre'. Originally built to seat 3048, it was constructed as a super-cinema, designed to maximise audience numbers with a pleasant viewing experience. Clever use of the steeply falling ground level to the east of Greenside Place means that the theatre is deceptively large, and that the circle level is unusually entered at ground level, with the balcony at first floor and the stalls at basement level.
John Fairweather (1867-1942) was born in Glasgow and specialised in designing cinemas in Scotland, in particular for the Green family. Fairweather's Glasgow Playhouse of 1927 for the Green's was the largest cinema in Europe at the time. Other work included Dundee (1934-6), and the Former Ayr Playhouse (see separate listing).
The theatre was rehabilitated in 1978-80 by Lothian Region Architects Department.
List description updated and category changed from B to A as part of the Cinema Thematic Study 2007-08.
G. Baird, EDINBURGH THEATRES, CINEMAS AND CIRCUSES, 1964. Gifford, McWilliam and Walker, EDINBURGH, (1991), p439. RCAHMS Inventory. Other information courtesy of theatre manager and Cinema Theatre Association Scotland (2007).
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