His Majesty's Theatre, Aberdeen
|Owner||Aberdeen City Council|
|Operator||Aberdeen Performing Arts|
|Designation||Category A listed|
|Type||Regional producing and receiving theatre|
|Opened||3 December 1906|
His Majesty's Theatre in Aberdeen is the largest theatre in north-east Scotland, seating more than 1,400. The theatre is sited on Rosemount Viaduct, opposite the city's Union Terrace Gardens. It was designed by Frank Matcham and opened in 1906.
The granite-clad theatre is the brainchild of Robert Arthur, of Glasgow, who started his group of theatres in the 1880s focusing on Her Majesty`s Theatre, Dundee, and others in England. He took a lease of Her Majesty`s Opera House, Aberdeen  (later named the Tivoli) in Guild Street from 1891 and started to look for a site to build one according to his own specifications. His plans for Rosemount Viaduct were submitted to Aberdeen City Council in 1901, construction starting in 1904, and completed in 1906.
Now with theatres in Scotland, and in England, such as the Theatre Royal, Newcastle, Robert Arthur floated his new company on the Stock Exchange in 1897. He staged the whole range of plays, opera, revues and pantomimes until the company ran out of funds in 1912. At this point Michael Simons of the Theatre Royal, Glasgow, chairman and founder of Howard & Wyndham Ltd, became chairman of the Robert Arthur group with the Arthur theatres now to be operated under the same directors and managers of Howard & Wyndham.
Robert Arthur Theatres Ltd, through Michael Simons, sold the theatre in 1923 to Walter Gilbert, managing director of the Tivoli Theatre. On his death it was bought in 1932 by Councillor James F Donald, of cinema and dance hall note. James Donald refurbished the venue and introduced features such as external neon lighting, a cinema projector and a revolving stage. Gilbert`s son and the Donald family managed it until 1939 when the ownership, programming and production passed to Howard & Wyndham Ltd (of which Peter Donald became a director) continuing until the late 1960s when Peter Donald and family bought it back.
Aberdeen City Council bought the theatre in 1975, the Council duly allocating £3.5 million to ensure the building's survival. After 23 months of closure the theatre was reopened in 1982 by Prince Charles.
Extension and refurbishment (2005)
During the late 1990s, Aberdeen City Council recognised that the theatre required modernisation. It lacked a cafe, restaurant or corporate hospitality offering, the bar and toilet facilities were inadequate and the back-of-house space did not offer any rehearsal area, dance studio or workshops. Operational equipment, such as the scenery hoist, and parts of the building fabric were also deteriorating. A proposal to refurbish the existing facilities and extend the theatre was developed by the Council’s in-house architects, with LDN Architects appointed as architectural consultants and the Adapt Trust advising on accessibility. Construction of the extension began in August 2003, with the theatre closing completely in March 2004 to allow refurbishment works of the existing part of the building. The theatre reopened in August 2005, with a opening ceremony taking place on 8 September which was attended by Prince Edward.
The extension is a five-storey triangular structure built on the car park to the east of the existing building, with three storeys below the level of Rosemount Viaduct. It was constructed from Kemnay granite to match the original building facade and features a large glass facade facing Rosemount Viaduct. The choice of a glazed structure was in response to the desire to enliven the frontage of the building and highlight the activity within. The roof is finished in pre-patinated copper to match the dome on the original part of the building.
Accommodated within the extension are new front-of-house facilities, including a box office, restaurant, coffee shop and corporate hospitality area. The auditorium seating was re-upholstered with increased leg-room provided in the stalls by replacing the rows and offsetting seats. Back-of-house facilities were also improved, with upgraded technical and audio-visual equipment installed, a new green room, enhanced dressing rooms and a purpose-built rehearsal and education area. A key aim of the project was to make the building fully accessible to those with disabilities and to that end, the project included the installation of two lifts, provision of accessible toilets & dressing rooms and creation of space for wheelchairs across the different levels in the auditorium.
The project cost £7.9m and was jointly funded by Aberdeen City Council, the Scottish Arts Council Capital Lottery Fund (£2m), Scottish Enterprise Grampian (£375,000) and private sponsorship. It was recognised with a commendation in the 2006 Civic Trust Awards and was a joint winner in the major buildings category of the Society of Chief Architects for Local Authorities' Civic Building of the Year Award 2006. The Scottish Executive featured the project as a case study in its 2007 policy document on architecture, describing it as a "thoughtful integration of the old and new" with the improved facilities and comfort conditions considered to significantly increase the theatre's attractiveness as a venue for theatregoers and performers alike. The case study concluded "This is an excellent example of public architecture carried out by the City Council’s in-house team."
The original building comprises four storeys and is constructed from Kemnay granite in an ashlar finish on the primary elevation and Tillyfourie granite to the sides and rear. It features a copper domed tower at its eastern end and a reinforced concrete statue of Tragedy and Comedy at the top of the main facade. Historic Environment Scotland describe the building as having a "remarkable finely detailed Free Renaissance style" with a "spacious well preserved interior, handsomely treated throughout in mixed baroque and neo-Jacobean strapwork decoration, much alabaster and marble".
Management and activities
The theatre is regularly visited by Scotland's national arts companies and hosts performances from other major companies. Until 2017, when it ceased, it hosted events in the annual Aberdeen International Youth Festival.
- The Theatre Royal: Entertaining a Nation, by Graeme Smith, published 2008
- The Theatre Royal: Entertaining a Nation, by Graeme Smith, published 2008
- Glasgow Alhambra, by Graeme Smith, published 2011
- "42. HM Theatre - Lottery Funding – Minutes of Resources Management Committee" (PDF). Aberdeen City Council. 20 November 2001. p. 32–35.
- "His Majesty's Theatre - Extension and Refurbishment". Society for Construction and Architecture in Local Authorities: 7–13 – via Yumpu.
- Scottish Executive 2007, p. 78. sfn error: no target: CITEREFScottish_Executive2007 (help)
- "8.2.2 Performing Arts Venues – Minute of Meeting of Aberdeen City Council" (PDF). Aberdeen City Council. 26 June 2002. Retrieved 24 October 2021.
- "His Majesty's Theatre Redevelopment". Civic Trust Awards. Retrieved 24 October 2021.
- Edi Swan: His Majesty's Theatre – One Hundred Years of Glorious Damnation (Black & White Publishing) (2006) ISBN 978-1-84502-102-3
- Historic Environment Scotland. "Rosemount Viaduct, His Majesty's Theatre (Category A Listed Building) (LB20605)". Retrieved 20 September 2021.
- Building our Legacy – Statement on Scotland's Architecture Policy (PDF). Scottish Executive. 2007. pp. 78–79. ISBN 978-0-7559-5276-2.
- Guide to British Theatres 1750-1950, John Earl and Michael Sell pp. 2–3 (Theatres Trust, 2000) ISBN 0-7136-5688-3
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