It was never intended that the Leeds Playhouse should be permanently housed in the University sports hall on Calverley Street; the original lease was for 10 years, and during the 1970's the Leeds Theatre Trust began looking for a site for a permanent theatre. Two possible sites were the old Gaumont Cinema (previously the Colisseum Theatre in Cookridge Street), and the Grand Theatre where it was suggested that a joint Grand/Playhouse theatre should be built.
In 1978 the Playhouse was approaching the end of its lease, and was threatened with closure. 30,000 people signed a petition for the Playhouse to remain open at the University site, and this was agreed. For the next six years the Playhouse executive director, William Weston, and Leeds Leisure Services Director Bernard Atha campaigned to find funding for the new theatre.
In 1984 Leeds City Council offered the Playhouse a new home on Quarry Hill, previously the site of the Quarry Hill flats, and £5.4m funding. West Yorkshire County Council also offered a grant of £4m towards the building of the theatre. This was accepted by the Leeds Theatre Trust, and in recognition of the award the theatre was to be named the West Yorkshire Playhouse. With further funding from the Arts council there was enough money to go ahead.
An architectural competition for the design attracted 120 competitors. It was won by architects Marjorie and Ian Appleton of the Appleton Partnership, and the building contractors were Fairclough Building. The total cost of the theatre was £13m. The foundation stone was laid in March 1989 by Dame Judi Dench, and the topping out ceremony was attended by Albert Finney. The theatre was opened on 8th March 1990 by Diana Rigg, and Jude Kelly was appointed as Artistic Director.
The playhouse has two auditoria, the 750 seat Quarry theatre, and the smaller 350 seat Courthouse Theatre. The former has an open thrust stage, and is similar in design to the old Playhouse. The smaller Courthouse is designed to be used for exhibitions and conferences as well as a theatre. There is also a bar, a coffee shop, and a restaurant with a cabaret space for live performances. The theatre complex also houses the Newlyn gallery, and two function rooms, the Congreve Room and the Priestley Room, as well as rehearsal rooms, recording studios, workshops, dressing rooms and offices.
Despite its popularity, by October 1990 the theatre was experiencing financial problems, and asking for more money to complete the building work and help with running costs. In 1995 the theatre still had debts of £500,000, and the Courtyard Theatre was threatened with closure. A grant from Humberside Arts in 1996, and £2m from the National Lottery Stabilisation Fund in 1997 meant the theatre was able to pay off its debts.
|Click images to enlarge|
West Yorkshire Playhouse, 1999
West Yorkshire Playhouse, looking towards Eastgate, 1999
West Yorkshire Playhouse, entrance, 1999
Programme, autumn-winter, 1993-4
Programme for Summer 1994
Programme for autumn - winter, 1994-5