In March 1964, the Arts Council was informed by Doreen Newlyn of a new committee of 13 people who were “beginning a campaign for promoting a professional civic theatre in Leeds”.
The committee sought to address the absence of a professional producing theatre within West Yorkshire.
In 1968 the Leeds Theatre Trust was incorporated and a public appeal for funds of £150,000 was launched at a meeting in Leeds Town Hall on 5 May 1968. The audience was addressed by Leeds’ born and raised Hollywood legend, Peter O’Toole (although he also had a birth certificate from Ireland!), Hunslet-born Keith Waterhouse and John Neville, who was then Artistic Director of Nottingham Playhouse.
£20,000 was raised by public subscription; the City Council committed £20,000 (and £5,000 annually) and grants from Arts Council England and the Gulbenkian Foundation meant that the project could go ahead. In September 1969 the foundation stone was laid on the southern edge of Leeds University campus and Leeds Playhouse opened in September 1970.
“It was in the spirit of the undertaking that our temporary building should not in any sense be a write-off. Ours is a first-stage venture in a long-term endeavour. Out of this Playhouse will grow the next, and at the end of its ten-year lease, much of enduring value in the fabric will remain and be recovered. Materially as well as spiritually, our Playhouse is designed as a long-term investment for the citizens of Leeds.”
– W.Houghton-Evans, Architect of the original Leeds Playhouse
The first performance at Leeds Playhouse was held on 16 September 1970 with Sir Tony Robinson (who went on to play Baldrick in the TV series Blackadder) starring as Simon in Alan Plater’s play Simon Says, and directed by Artistic Director Bill Hays.
In December 1970, HRH Prince Charles attended a Royal Gala performance of Oh Glorious Jubilee by Clifford Hanley.
The Playhouse you know today was born directly out of Leeds Playhouse – a repertory theatre which started its Portakabin existence in what was always meant to be a temporary home under Artistic Director Bill Hays, with John Harrison taking over in 1972.
The initial agreement with Leeds University was that Leeds Theatre Trust would base their temporary home on the earmarked university sports hall site for 10 years, within certain restrictions. However the process to find a permanent home for the theatre took longer than expected and the University agreed to extend the contract for another 10 years.
When Leeds Playhouse eventually moved to Quarry Hill, the old site was not turned into a sports hall as Leeds University originally planned, but is now used as an auditorium and lecture theatre. However some of the original features of the Playhouse auditorium still exist today.