Liam Rudden: The Edinburgh Playhouse gets a new lease of life

Colin Marr
Colin Marr
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THE Playhouse has been redecorated. Gone are the deep, rich reds of the auditorium, replaced by a return to the building’s original colour scheme, a blend of whites, greys and greens, fairly nondescript compared with what went before although, as new Theatre Director Colin Marr pointed out to me the other day, it does allow the auditorium to be seen.

The Playhouse has been a huge part of Edinburgh life for nearly a century now.

It opened as a cinema in 1929 and over the decades has undergone many transformations.

When the lure of the silver screen lost its novelty, it closed, but not before welcoming the legendary Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy on stage in 1932.

You can watch footage of that famous visit on YouTube, just go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IhzO40CtVUY.

Other greats to have set foot in the Greenside Place venue include Marlene Dietrich and Yul Brynner, yet that legacy couldn’t prevent it closing in 1973 after its last screening, the James Bond film Live and Let Die.

Although a public petition saved it from being pulled down, it wasn’t until 1980 that it reopened and quickly established itself as the best concert venue in Scotland.

I remember seeing everyone from Meatloaf to Mike Oldfield, Toyah to Rick Wakeman there in the Eighties.

In 1995 it reinvented itself again, attracting the West End hit The Phantom of the Opera for a remarkable nine month season, something only The Lion King has come close to recently with a three month run.

Over the last few years, the Playhouse has become a shadow of its former self as General Managers have come and gone so rapidly you’d be forgiven for thinking there was a revolving stage door.

That has been reflected in the quality of the shows and a number of bizarre business choices, not least the hiring of scandal-hit G4S to provide ‘security’ when every other theatre in Edinburgh seems to manage with in-house staff. Definitely not the friendliest of welcomes.

Consequently, there’s little doubt that the venue’s first Theatre Director has his work cut out, but if anyone can turn the place around and recapture the glories of the past I have no doubt it is Colin Marr - you just have to look at his track record.

This is the man who took the bankrupt Eden Court Theatre in Inverness and transformed it into a successful entertainment complex and business centre.

Looking ahead, he tells me his plans for The Playhouse are more than a two year project (read the interview at https://www.edinburghnews.scotsman.com/news/entertainment/new-playhouse-director-has-big-plans-for-city-venue-1-4690021) so don’t expect the colour scheme to be the only change you see in the near future.

It appears another, brighter, chapter is about to be written in the history of the much loved venue.