Our history

A theatre at the heart of the city and region since 1970.

The Beginning

In March 1964, the Arts Council was informed by Doreen Newlyn of a new committee in Leeds 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 the large conurbation of 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.

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.

Quarry Hill

The Playhouse of today was born directly out of the original Leeds Playhouse – a repertory theatre which started its Portakabin existence in what was always meant to be a temporary home under its Artistic Director John Harrison.

Built on Quarry Hill (the site of the most notorious slums in 19th Century Western Europe and later the infamous Quarry Hill flats which replaced them) the current theatre officially opened its door in March 1990 under its Artistic Director Jude Kelly, and was Britain’s largest new purpose-built theatre for 15 years. Donald Sinden had turned the first sod in November 1987; Judi Dench had laid the foundation stone in March 1989, with Albert Finney performing the topping-out ceremony in September 1989.

Following funding from the now defunct West Yorkshire regional authority, the name of West Yorkshire Playhouse was adopted. From the beginning it was clear that the new West Yorkshire Playhouse was going to be more than just a performing space. The primary objective stated in the initial business plan was: to change significantly the nature and extent of repertory programming by enlarging the repertoire to provide a centre for international as well as national work and to create a significant producing theatre with a fully integrated community programme acting as a resource for the city and region.

In the first six years of operation the Playhouse produced 93 of its own productions (27 or which were world or British premieres) encompassing classics and contemporary British and European drama, modern theatre from around the world and had implemented a vigorous new writing policy.

Ian Brown succeeded Jude Kelly as Artistic Director in 2002 and brought with him a commitment to continue the vital and established role that the Playhouse was playing in the community. Under his leadership the Playhouse maintained its pioneering community engagement work and gained a reputation for the quality and mix of its work.

Following Ian’s departure in 2012 he was succeeded by James Brining. Although Leeds-born, James arrived via Richmond and Dundee (being described as a “Scottish theatre sensation” by The Telegraph at the time of his appointment). With new-found vigour the Playhouse continues to develop and expand on the vision of Vital Theatre.


    Arts Council
  • Leeds City Council
  • LTB Foundation
  • Principal Partner

    Caddick Group
  • Principal Access Partner

    Irwin Mitchell