Theatre making in Scotland can be traced back to the fifteenth century, when the miracle plays were presented and theatre continued to grow in popularity through to their zenith between 1860 and 1910 - when most of the theatres we know today were built. In the 18th and 19th centuries many theatre buildings had to be replaced as they were often burned down in that era of smoking, gas lighting and naked flames on stage.


Theatres enjoyed a lively relationship with local authorities - in 1736 on of Scotland’s earliest theatres was created by Allan Ramsay on Carubbers Close – however it was forced to shut in the face of disapproval by the Kirk and Edinburgh Town Council. In modern times, Councillors John Kidd and Moira Knox rejoiced in the controversy of their censorious attacks on shows at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.


A 19th century image of Leith's Gaiety Theatre reveals the different entrances to the theatre that separated the classes as they ventured into the dress circle or the Gallery. Later theatres brought everyone in through the main entrance leading to somewhat congested foyers. The Theatre Royal on Broughton Street was the site of many theatres through the 18th and 19th centuries – many of which were destroyed by fire. However, Edinburgh's worst fire was the one that engulfed the Empire Theatre when a lantern caught alight during a performance in 1911 by illusionist The Great Lafayette: he was among 11 performers who died. Lafayette and his dog Beauty are buried alongside each other in Piershill Cemetery.


Much theatre-building during 1890-1910 was commercially-driven, resulting in packed spaces. Glasgow's Theatre Royal had begun life in 1867 as an Opera House, becoming the new STV channel's studios in the 1950s before reverting to its original function in 1974 as the home of Scottish Opera. It was refurbished in 2014 with a new foyer, lifts and a striking central staircase. The Citizens opened in 1876, experiencing a riot a few years later which temporarily closed the venue. It eventually became the Citizens in 1945 and It is one of Scotland’s leading “producing” theatres – presenting their productions. The majority of Scotland’s larger theatres are by contrast “receiving” theatres presenting productions developed elsewhere. Glasgow's Kings Theatre was one of 160 across the UK designed by theatre architect Frank Matcham who was also responsible for His Majesty's in Aberdeen and the Royal Lyceum in Edinburgh with his trademark use of sumptuous red, gold and cream decor.


The Tivoli in Aberdeen dated from 1872 and had become by the 1960s the bastion of Calum Kennedy, who presented the likes of the White Heather Club and the Alexander Brothers, succumbing to bingo before closure in 1997. The theatre was eventually rescued by local businessman Brian Hendry who tackled water ingress and the general decline of the fabric of the building and the theatre was eventually reopened to the public in 2013. Owned by the Donald family, whose interests extended to football and ice cream, His Majesty's also in Aberdeen was flanked by the St Marks Church and the Central Library. This cityscape was affectionately referred to by locals as education, salvation and damnation. A glazed extension designed to simplify and democratise its cramped circulation was opened by Prince Edward in 2005.


Edinburgh's Royal Lyceum was built in 1882 using a design by Frank Matcham, for the major theatrical stable Howard & Wyndham. The theatre acquired a glass frontage in 1991. The Empire Theatre’s transition into the Festival Theatre came through a long decline after its rebuilding in 1928 which saw bingo prioritised over late-night appearances by stars like David Bowie : rebuilding in 1994 to a design by Edinburgh architects Law Dunbar and Naismith also gave a glass frontage but one which somehow seems more at ease with its surroundings because the glass is all-embracing. Edinburgh's Kings Theatre had a problematic start when its builder found that he could not pass it into the hands of the cash strapped commissioning company - so he ran it himself and his son went on to become Managing Director of Howard & Wyndham.  Its interior was decongested by removal of a top tier in the 1950s, and now it is on the verge of a £25M refurbishment starting in September 2022. Last of the main Edinburgh venues the Playhouse opened in 1927 and operated for forty years. Following the purchase of the building by Lothian Reginal Council in the 1970’s it became a 3000 seat theatre in 1980 and boasts one of the largest theatre auditoria in the UK.


The Eden Court at Inverness is another Law Dunbar Naismith creation whose hinterland stretches throughout the Highlands and Islands. The Pitlochry Festival Theatre built in 1981 serves a mainly summer audience. Dundee Rep’s origins were in an old church hall on the Perth Road before moving to its current custom-built theatre in the centre of town in 1982. It is the only theatre in Scotland to provide a repertory company of actors with year-round employment.


The Studio Theatre in Edinburgh's Potterrow is Scotland's newest theatre. Opened in 2013, it serves as a reminder that there has been very little theatre building in the last 40 years. Our theatrical legacy is mostly of traditional sites that have had to adjust to modern circumstances ranging to accommodate disability legislation to the impact of the pandemic. It must be a continuing concern that so few of the productions coming to our large-scale theatres are produced in Scotland – the majority coming from commercial and subsidised companies based in England.