The Playhouse Timeline

The Playhouse has a rich and interesting history. The timeline below highlights some of the key moments since its journey began in 1968.

  • 1960s


    A committee was formed to start campaigning for a new permanent repertory theatre.


    Leeds Theatre Trust Ltd was established.


    Leeds Theatre Trust started to search for existing premises, which could be used as a temporary theatre – eventually offered by University of Leeds (rent free in a building intended for use as a sports hall once the theatre had found a permanent home). Architect William Houghton-Evans.

  • 1970s


    Leeds Playhouse opened, under the Artistic Direction of Bill Hayes (until 1972).

    The first performance on held on 16 September 1970 with Sir Tony Robinson appearing as Simon in Simon Says.

    In December 1970 HRH Prince Charles attended a Royal Gala performance of Oh Glorious Jubilee.


    John Harrison took over as Artistic Director (until 1990).


    World première of The Wedding Feast by Arnold Wesker and Paul Schofield as Prospero in The Tempest.

    Before he hit the big time with Soft Cell, Marc Almond used to work behind the bar.


    30,000 people signed a petition to keep the Playhouse open on the University site for the ‘Leeds Needs the Playhouse’ campaign.

  • 1980s


    Leeds City Council earmarked a site on Quarry Hill for a permanent theatre.


    £1m grant from West Yorkshire Metropolitan County Council, soon to be disbanded, was given on condition that the new building was named West Yorkshire Playhouse.


    The first sod was dug by Sir Donald Sinden in November.


    In March Dame Judi Dench laid the foundation stone (which can be seen in the entrance of West Yorkshire Playhouse).

    Albert Finney performed the ‘topping out’ ceremony in September.

    Heydays was formed.

  • 1990s


    On 8th March West Yorkshire Playhouse Playhouse (Architect The Appleton Partnership) was opened on Quarry Hill by Diana Rigg.

    The first Christmas show as Sugar, a stage version of Some Like It Hot starring Andy Serkis.

    Artistic Director Jude Kelly (1989 – 2002) directed the first play Wild Oats by John O’Keefe, with Reece Dinsdale taking the lead role.

    From 1990 – 2011 West Yorkshire Playhouse Schools Touring Company was committed to providing top quality theatre to schools.


    The Servant of Two Masters, starring Toby Jones was the first production to transfer internationally (to Italy) as part of the Goldoni Centenary celebrations.


    Jude Law, Ken Stott and James Purefoy starred in Death of a Salesman.


    The Beatification of Area Boy featured Nigerian actors and musicians, which went on to tour internationally (USA, Australia, Geneva Festival).

    The Playhouse was awarded the Prudential Award for Theatre in recognition of its excellence, creativity, innovation and accessibility.

    Jude Kelly’s King Lear starred Warren Smith and transferred to the Hackney Empire.

    The Playhouse invited a series of guest directors – Steven Berkoff directed and starred in Coriolanus, Barrie Rutter, Prunella Scales and Alan Rickman.


    Matthew Warchus’s (now director of Old Vic) production of Peter Pan was staged at the Playhouse.


    Sir Ian McKellen joined the rep company appearing in The Seagull, Present Laughter and The Tempest.


    Shockheaded Peter was a major co-production with Improbable.


    The Christmas production Singin’ in the Rain transferred in July 2000 to The Royal National Theatre and won an Olivier Award for Best Musical. It then came back for another Christmas Season in 2001 at the Playhouse before heading off on a national tour.

    Feeling Good Theatre Company formed from Heydays members to portray positive, informed stories of ageing.

  • 2000s


    Beautiful Octopus Club was established as a Club night for people with learning disabilities.


    Patrick Stewart joined the playhouse for the Priestley Season.


    Ian Brown joined at Artistic Director (till 2012).

    Chris Eccleston starred in Ian Brown’s first production as Artistic Director in Hamlet.

    Tom Courtenay wrote and starred in Pretending to be Me, directed by Ian Brown.

    Carnival Messiah was written and directed by Geraldine Connor.

    Wind in the Willows, adapted by Alan Bennett was directed by Ian Brown.


    Runaway Diamonds by the Schools Touring Company was a sought after education tool and contributed to schools achieving the Stephen Lawrence Award.


    Taking almost £1m, The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe became the highest-grossing Playhouse show so far.


    A partnership was formed with Szechuan People’s Theatre, China.


    The SPARK programme ran in Bradford Schools and across the UK and Ireland.


    A co-production of Othello with Northern Broadsides included Lenny Henry, who launched his stage drama ‘career’ at the Playhouse.

    Dandy Lion Club introduced for young people with learning disabilities to enjoy a day of creative activities with their families which led to Relaxed Performances and BUZZ.


    First Floor was established as a designated space for young people at St Peter’s building, after 3 years of fundraising £750,000 to convert the building.

    Access Partnership with Irwin Mitchell Solicitors was established.

  • 2010s


    UK’s first Relaxed Performance – introduced to the UK by the Playhouse in its Christmas production of Cinderella.

    Creative activities for people with dementia introduced through Peer Support Cultural Partnership.


    The Deep Blue Sea marked the national launch of the Terance Rattigan centenary and starred Maxine Peake.

    Transform was launched by Alan Lane and Kully Thiarai with two weeks of constantly changing ‘festival’ style programming.

    Our studio season Furnace was also formed during the 21st birthday year.

    Our production of Annie went onto a UK and world tour and is opening in the West End later this year.

    The Playhouse received the Arts & Business Young People Award for introduction of Relaxed Performances with access partner Iriwn Mitchell.


    James Brining joined as Artistic Director.

    Playhouse Youth Theatre was established.


    Refugee Boy and its subsequent tour led to the Playhouse Theatre of Sanctuary status.


    The first dementia friendly performance was performed in the Christmas production of White Christmas.

    Our Time project was created for people living with Dementia.

    The Playhouse became the World’s first Theatre of Sanctuary.

    First Floor won Best Place for Children and Young people in Leeds at the Child Friendly Leeds awards.


    A new logo and brand was developed by Chilli, a Leeds and Australian-based branding company.

    The Playhouse won two national Dementia Friendly awards, led by Nicky Taylor.

    Chitty Chitty Bang Bang became the Playhouse’s biggest box office show and toured the UK for over a year.


    Successful application to Arts Council England for a grant for the redevelopment, and Architects Page\Park were appointed.

    Playhouse staged the UK première of Strictly Ballroom the Musical, which goes onto Toronto in April 2017.

    The first major collaboration between Opera North and the Playhouse with Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods.


    Arts Council Stage 2 application Redevelopment moves into stage 3 of the application.


    Final productions before the theatres close for construction, due to reopen in 2019.

See how The Playhouse has changed over the yearsDownload the latest redevelopment PDF