Edinburgh’s Most Haunted: Phantom of the Playhouse

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Nestled down beside the ultra modern glass buildings springing up across the city centre, the Playhouse is an Edinburgh institution.

The old brick building, once a cinema, has housed the biggest shows and the brightest stars over the years - and it’s also home to its very own phantom.

Is there a Phantom at the Playhouse?

Is there a Phantom at the Playhouse?

The site of the Playhouse has the sort of fascinating past - at one time a Tabernacle - a religious meeting site - it also housed an insane asylum run by nuns and before that was used as a jousting ground in medieval times. But it was only in the 1950s when it was operating as a cinema that the tales of old Albert, the man in grey, began to surface.

The description was actually first provided by city police who, called out to a reported break in. Having inspected the building one officer told the manager of the time that he met an old man in grey overalls who said he was Albert the doorman. Of course, the baffled manager said there was no one in the building, and no one of that description working there.

Since then, those who work in the great halls and winding back corridors of the building have regularly reported strange and unsettling occurrences.

Mysterious noises, hands on the shoulder when no one else is there, even the sound of a spectral orchestra playing in the middle of the night. And plenty have tales of seeing the shadowy figure in grey lurking around a room on level six.

Having worked at the playhouse for almost 25 years now, Mark Smellie has heard more than a few stories - and even had his own run-ins with the spirit - though he still insists he doesn’t believe in ghosts.

One thing he doesn’t know - because no one does - is who Albert might have been. Stories suggest he was either a stage hand who died in a tragic accident, or a former doorman who, depending on who you talk to, died alone at the theatre or committed suicide.

“There’s another story suggesting Albert was supposedly murdered,” says Mark. “No one really knows who he was though. The grey overalls have led people to suggest he might have been a maintenance man or a doorman.”

While his identity is unknown, the exact spot he is said to haunt most frequently is just a closely guarded secret - “We might get actors who don’t want to go in if they know which one it is, so we just keep it quiet,” admits Mark.

“Loads of people have reported strange events over the years. A lot of it could just be explained away as the building or a draft, but then there are other stories.

“Bev, who works front of house, she was locking up one night when she saw a man go into one of the dressing rooms. She locked all the other doors then went to tell him to go - she thought it was someone who had just stayed behind after the show - but when she went to the room there was no one there.”

One of the more infamous accounts was the situation during the G8 summit in the Capital in 2005 when police sniffer dogs sent to check the building stopped outside the room and refused to go in, to the bemusement of their handlers. Eventually dogs from Edinburgh Castle - either more used to the presence of the supernatural or simply better trained - had to be called to complete the check.

“I’ve had riggers, big tough guys, go up to level six and come down white as a sheet, after hearing doors banging over and over. They refused to go back up the tower. I’d known them a long time and they were genuinely terrified.”

And Mark himself admits he has had a few run ins with Albert, once feeling a cold damp finger tap him on the shoulder when he was alone in the building.

“I was really pretty terrified, and I spun around ready to punch whoever it was - I thought someone might have broken into the building - but there was no one there,” he says.

“I don’t believe in ghosts, but I can’t explain my experiences, which is eerie. But if it is a ghost it’s not a bad ghost. We’ve never had anything untoward happen”

Indeed the playhouse even paid tribute to their resident phantom - naming a theatre bar Alberts in his honour.

“I thought it was a nice thing to do. I think Albert would be happy about it.”