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Green's Playhouse
Boswell Park
The Playhouse, Ayr is the finest remaining complete example of a classic John Fairweather Green’s Playhouse. Its auditorium is important as a rare intact survivor of a purpose-built cinema on this large scale. It is of more than local importance as the best surviving example of Fairweather’s large scale designs for the Green family, featuring as it does a similar interior decorative scheme to the demolished Glasgow and Dundee Playhouses.
The Ayr Playhouse opened on 8th July 1931, a replacement for an earlier Playhouse on the site, which had burnt down. At that time it was the second largest cinema in the country.

The design is impressive; managing to fit 3,116 seats in a building with stalls and a single balcony – both the Glasgow and Edinburgh Playhouses achieved their massive capacities using two tiers of balconies. The stalls sat 1757; the balcony 1303, and boxes 56.
Looking at the plans, this was achieved my minimising the foyer spaces, squeezing the café into a mezzanine level under the balcony rake, and having the balcony extend backwards over the foyer spaces to the very front of the building. There is very little in the way of wasted space within this building.

Green’s cinemas were built to increasingly large scales; HJ Green explained the reasons for this in a 1931 interview: "Of course my cinema is a success," said Mr Green. "The bigger the cinema the greater the success. And the reason - because people know they can get in - no-one is wasting time by coming to my cinema because they know there will be room for them. And there's another reason: the big cinema will always attract because it can give better value for money. Overhead expenses are minimised, and so we can afford to give the best pictures, good musical interludes, at a price at which small cinemas cannot possibly compete."
Mr Green also talked of the cinema of the future.
"In this amusement business the public demands progressive change. From silent to talking pictures, from black-and-white to colour photography, from small downtown 300-seaters to 4,000 seaters. Car parks, cafes, dance halls, these things will all become part and parcel of the cinema of the future.
My new cinema at Ayr, besides having a car park, will have a flat roof on which gyroplanes may land. It is my belief that the cinema is definitely establishing itself as the centre of social life in every town” [1]

Ayr’s Playhouse auditorium featured a small central dome feature, a series of large Corinthian columns running down the side walls with boxes between them, and a square proscenium flanked by large pillars. The alterations for bingo do not detract from the impressive scale and design of the interior.

The only other cinema auditoria of this scale to survive in Scotland is Fairweather’s Playhouse in Edinburgh. That was built much earlier, very much with cinema-variety in mind, featuring a large stage and many dressing rooms. Ayr’s Playhouse was built solely for cinema use, and as such represents the best surviving example of technical design and planning for cinema auditoria on this scale. It has been in use as a bingo hall since 1969.

The Playhouse was listed Category C(s) in 1999, amd in 2008 this was upgraded to Category B.

Click here or here for more pictures of the Playhouse exterior


Another Cinema Opened in Ayr (The Scotsman, Thursday 9th July, 1931, p.9)
“Yesterday afternoon the fine new building to be known as Green’s New Playhouse, erected in Boswell Park, Ayr, on the site of the former building destroyed by fire in September 1929, was opened to the public. Provost Wilson, in presence of a large company, performing the opening ceremony. The New Playhouse, which is stated to be the second largest in Scotland, has a seating capacity of over 3000, and is finely equipped in every way. The Western Electric talking apparatus is installed.”

Ayr Building Boom (The Scotsman, Saturday 12th April, 1930, p.17)
“George Green (Ltd.), Glasgow, submitted plans for the erection of a building in Boswell Park to replace the former Playhouse destroyed by fire in September last. The estimated cost is put at £25,000, and the building, which will give accommodation for between 3000 and 4000 people will, when completed, be the second largest picture house in Scotland.”

Ayr Picture House Plans (The Scotsman, Saturday 26th April, 1930, p.15)
“Plans were passed yesterday by Ayr Dean of Guild Court for the erection of a picture house at Boswell Park by Messrs Green (Ltd.) The new cinema is to replace the Playhouse, which was destroyed by fire last September. The auditorium will seat 3104 persons, while the crush halls and tearooms will accommodate 840.”

[1] A Thousand Miles of Filmgoing: Glasgow - Cecilie Leslie, Film Weekly article, 13th June 1931

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