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Scotland's theatre architecture revealed in new publication

8 March 2011

A new booklet which looks at the architects and styles of Scotland’s theatres is being launched today, Tuesday 8th March at Glasgow’s Theatre Royal.

Written by Historic Scotland and the Theatres Trust, the booklet looks at theatre design from 1736 up until the late twentieth century, ranging from Victorian opulence and Edwardian designs to 20th century conversions and post-war theatres.

Fiona Hyslop, Minister for Culture and External affairs  said: “Scotland’s theatres contribute widely to our sense of place.  They range from prominent and highly distinctive buildings which give character and expression to our streetscapes to near-hidden structures which often conceal the most amazing decorative interiors.  Each theatre has its own history, its own story to tell and contributes to the richness and diversity of Scotland’s cultural heritage.”

The booklet looks at a range of theatre architecture including the Edwardian baroque style of the King’s Theatre in Glasgow with its marble-lined entrance foyer to the A-listed Tivoli Theatre in Aberdeen with its striking Venetian Gothic style elevation and  Edinburgh’s A-listed classical Royal Lyceum Theatre.

It appears that the first regular theatre in Scotland to be established was in Edinburgh at Carrubber’s Close in 1736.  One of the earliest surviving purpose-built theatres is the Theatre Royal in Dumfries which is still in use today.  It opened in 1792 and was designed by the local architect Thomas Boyd.

A great number of 19th century theatres were destroyed by fire.  A combination of extensive use of wood in the interiors as well as candlelight, gas lighting and limelight meant that they were susceptible.   While 18th century theatre survivals are rare, the late 19th century introduction of electric lighting and the safety curtain to prevent fires on stage reaching the audience have left us with an impressive  legacy of late Victorian and Edwardian theatres.

In the second half of the 20th century, entertainment venues faced competition in their struggle to retain an audience, particularly with the popularity of television.  Many theatres were demolished at this time or converted to other uses.  In the 1960’s local authorities took on the role of building new theatres, often as part of wider civic complexes and with a multi-purpose use envisioned from their inception.  
Pitlochry Festival Theatre was founded by John Stewart in 1951 and began life giving performances in a tent.  A permanent venue was completed in 1981 and it is estimated that Pitlochry Festival Theatre contributes £13million to the area’s economy each year.

The Universal Hall at the Findhorn Foundation Community has a spectacular setting on the edge of sand dunes near Forres in Moray.  Completed around 1983, it is an interesting example of late 20th century theatre building in Scotland, and was built by a volunteer workforce, using largely natural materials, sourced locally where possible.  Comprising a cafe and theatre space, it is not just a theatre, but a community hub.

Mhora Samuel, Director of the Theatres Trust said:  “We are extremely pleased to have been able to assist in the creation of this thematic study and look forward to further collaborations with Historic Scotland.  This booklet is a valuable resource to anyone interested in the history of Scottish theatres and their contribution to the cultural and architectural heritage of Scotland”.

People who wish to request a copy of the booklet should contact Valerie Lusk on 0131 668 8762 or . Anyone who would like to download the booklet should go to

For information

The Theatres Trust, the national advisory public body for theatres was a partner in the development of the publication providing source material from its national theatres database.  This includes architectural listings of theatres by some of the finest British theatre architects, including Charles James Phipps and Frank Matcham who designed the Theatre Royal in Glasgow and the Tivoli in Aberdeen respectively.

Notes for editors

  • Historic Scotland is an executive agency of the Scottish Government charged with safeguarding the nation’s historic environment. The agency is fully accountable to Scottish Ministers and through them to the Scottish Parliament.

For further information

Jennifer Johnston Watt
Communications and Media Officer
Communications and Media
0131 668 8070 or 07827 956 866