Gaiety Theatre

Gaiety Theatre, Ayr
©2022 Gazetteer for Scotland

Gaiety Theatre, Ayr

The most famous theatre in SW Scotland, The Gaiety lies on Carrick Street, just to the east of the town centre, in Ayr (South Ayrshire) and comprises a main auditorium with 450 seats and three boxes, together with three studio theatres accommodating 90, 100 and 100 patrons respectively. Replacing the Caledonian Theatre, a wooden building constructed on the same site in 1895, the Gaiety Theatre was the work of local architect J. McHardy Young and opened on 1st October 1902, having cost £9500. It originally had two levels (the balcony remains out of use awaiting refurbishment), and could seat an audience of 1200. Unfortunately, within a year of opening, the theatre was badly damaged by a fire. Originally in brick, it was rebuilt in steel and concrete with several fire-prevention measure, but despite these it burned down again in 1955. The cream-tiled facade dates from 1938 and is almost Art Deco, but untidy and lacking in symmetry. However, the best feature of the building is within; a remarkable florid roccoco auditorium, the work of Alex Cullen after the first fire, which is noted for its atmosphere and fine acoustics. Notable performers include Sir Harry Lauder (1870 - 1950) and Johnnie Beattie (b.1926), while the famous Gaiety Whirl shows began in the 1930s. An annexe was added in 1995 providing an enlarged box office, café, administration and improved backstage facilities.

From 1925 until 1973, the Gaiety was run by the Popplewell family, who built up much of the reputation and affection the theatre retains to this day. The building was B-listed in 1972. It was bought by Ayr Town Council for £72,000 the following year, passing to Kyle & Carrick District Council and then to South Ayrshire Council, who closed it in 2009 due to the urgent need for expensive modernisation and safety enhancements. The theatre opened once again in 2012 after a £1.5-million refurbishment by the Ayr Gaiety Partnership, a community enterprise, who took a 99-year lease on the theatre, at a peppercorn rent, from the Council. Now marketed as broad-based centre of theatre, film, comedy and the arts, which has established a relationship with the University of the West of Scotland, a second phase of refurbishment is planned, involving the upgrade of the balcony, stage facilities and replacement seats.

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