Perth Theatre


Completion Date:


Building owner/client:

Perth Civic Trust

Architect or lead designer:

Perth Civic Trust

Local Authority Area:

Perth & Kinross

Nominating Body:

Perth Civic Trust

Project Description

Perth Theatre has a long history of artistic innovation and excellence having been at the heart of cultural life in Perth for over a century. The theatre opened on Perth High Street in 1900 and was planned to seat 950 in the auditorium, with pit, two balconies and boxes. It was created by the Perth Theatre & Opera House Co Ltd and designed by Dundee`s City Architect, William Alexander. It is similar in style and layout to his design of Her Majesty`s Theatre, Dundee, but on a smaller scale. The foundation stone was laid in 1899 by actor George Alexander. The founding lessee was JH Savile, who owned Paisley Theatre, and in 1909 bought the Perth theatre outright. The Savile family continued to run the theatre until 1935, staging drama, opera, musicals, pantomime, revues and variety. JH Savile also founded his own Repertory Companies in Paisley and Perth which at their height produced 40 plays a year.

In 1935 Perth Theatre was sold to a new company created in London, the Perth Repertory Theatre Ltd., by Ernest Dence in support of his actress daughter Marjorie Dence, who succeeded as owner in 1937 on his death. Marjorie Dence and actor David Steuart co-founded their new venture, the Perth Repertory Company, whose annual and highly acclaimed work covered nine months of repertory in and around Perth with three months of touring of the Highlands & Islands, to the Northern Isles, and to the Borders. Perth Theatre hosted the first Scottish Theatre Festival in 1939 and again in 1945. Perth Repertory continued throughout the war and thrived until Miss Dence`s passing in 1966.

In her will Dence gave first option to buy the theatre to the Scottish Committee of the Arts Council, which did so and transferred it to Perth City Council. Joan Knight was appointed as Artistic Director in 1968, continuing the repertory company and mentoring performers and would-be-directors. During her 26 year tenure at Perth Theatre, she oversaw a major rebuilding programme in 1981 and 1985, adding a restaurant, studio theatre, rehearsal room, more dressing rooms and a workshop facility.

In 2005 Perth Theatre’s sister venue, Perth Concert Hall, was launched under the direction of the Jane Spiers, first CEO of Horsecross Arts. She also began fundraising for the theatre`s restoration and major redevelopment for which Richard Murphy, architects, were appointed by the Council in 2008.

The transformation of the theatre has restored and redeveloped one of Scotland’s oldest and best loved theatres for generations to come. The B listed Edwardian auditorium has been restored to its former glory and a new 200 seat studio theatre – the Joan Knight Studio – has been created. The newly transformed venue has increased workshop spaces for creative learning and community projects, including the thriving Perth Youth Theatre, as well as improved access and facilities for audiences and visitors.

Supporting Statement

The restoration and redevelopment of Perth Theatre over three years is part of a continuing evolution of Perth Theatre as a centre of culture and dance for nearly 120 years in Perth and further afield. This ambitious project is another exciting building development for Perth. The original Edwardian theatre has been retained and restored. The new smaller 200 seat studio theatre is a flexible space. The catering facilities are offered on two storeys and are already well patronised throughout the day.

The design cleverly incorporates the original stair access from the High Street and retains the elegance and opulence for which Perth Theatre is renowned. This entrance is a look back in time compared to the bold large new structure and main accessible entrance from Mill Street. The basic décor in the new areas simulates the polished concrete interior of Perth Concert Hall and there is a bold use of colour to distinguish different parts of the building. As part of the design, the original auditorium wall has been exposed and is visible from the new extension, linking old with new. Under new artistic director, Lu Kemp, Perth Theatre is a space for the whole community to enjoy, creating and showing the best work from local, national and international artists, connecting the theatre’s illustrious history with the world today.

Perth Civic Trust supports the concept of linking the heritage of the past with the contemporary design for the future. Perth must welcome evolution of design in its buildings, its cultural offerings and the ability to demonstrate the City is a leading light as a Cultural centre in Scotland. The continuing development of the City’s heritage is only possible by being bold and visionary in creating buildings. Perth Theatre has been, and continues to be, a key part of that ongoing evolution. While the new architectural aspects of the revamped Perth Theatre would certainly be a contender for the Scottish Civic Trust My Place Award 2018, the juxtaposition of the old and the new is an added but distinct justification for this submission by Perth Civic Trust. Miss Dence and Joan Knight, as all the staff and supporters, will appreciate and be proud of the Council’s determined support for Perth Theatre.