King's Theatre, Glasgow

The King's Theatre is located in Glasgow, Scotland. It was built for Howard & Wyndham Ltd under its chairman Baillie Michael Simons as a sister theatre of their Theatre Royal in the city and was designed by Frank Matcham, opening in 1904. The theatre is primarily a receiving house for touring musicals, dance, comedy and circus-type performances. The theatre also provides a prominent stage for local amateur productions. The King's Theatre also stages an annual pantomime, produced by First Family Entertainment

King's Theatre
King's Theatre in 2016
AddressBath Street
OwnerHoward & Wyndham Ltd (1904-1967)
Glasgow City Council (1967 – present)
DesignationCategory A listed
Capacity1,785 (4 levels)
Opened12 September 1904
Years active1904-present
ArchitectFrank Matcham

The theatre is currently operated by the Ambassador Theatre Group, under a lease from Glasgow City Council who own the building.


The theatre occupies the corner of Bath Street and Elmbank Street, in the Charing Cross area of the city. The longer Bath Street elevation houses both the main entrance, the scenery dock and stage door. The equally decorative but shorter Elmbank Street elevation has various fire exits and the entrance to the Gallery.


The King's Theatre was commissioned by the theatre company Howard & Wyndham at a cost of over £50,000 and opened on 12 September 1904.

In the 1930s like many city theatres, it had been policy to close during the summer while many city residents headed to the coast for their holidays, but this all changed in 1933 when the then managing director of Howard & Wyndham, A. Stewart Cruikshank, decided to experiment with a quality show, a cocktail of music, laughter and song, to outmatch the seaside-style summer shows. The show started at 8.30pm and was changed weekly, attracting huge crowds. The record run of 31 weeks under the top billing of Dave Willis remains unbroken in variety history. The first such show was on 5 June 1933, and was imaginatively titled the Half Past Eight Show. This successful summer tradition continued, with changes becoming fortnightly to allow as many people to see it as possible.

Howard and Wyndham Ltd acquired the larger Alhambra Theatre in Waterloo Street in 1954, in anticipation of selling their Theatre Royal in Hope Street to Roy Thomson as studios for the launch of the commercial television station STV, and the summer shows were transferred there.

The King's concentrated upon musical plays and drama and in time introduced ballet, Pavlova being greatly popular. Film seasons were introduced before 1914. Pantomime started in the 1960s only after the Alhambra Theatre closed. These lavish shows, originally funded in a joint venture by Glasgow Corporation and Edinburgh Corporation included Stanley Baxter and others. The Christmas pantomime continued as an annual feature, with comedians and actors such as Gerard Kelly and Elaine C. Smith. There is always a healthy rivalry with other Scottish theatres to put on the biggest and best Christmas pantomimes, with the main competition to the King's in Glasgow now being the Pavilion Theatre in Renfield Street.

Over the years many actors and actresses have graced the stage of The King's. These included Laurence Olivier, Sarah Bernhardt, Ray Walston, Katharine Hepburn and Tyrone Power. The Jackson Five appeared at a Royal Variety Performance in the late 1970s.

In 1967, Howard and Wyndham sold the King's Theatre to Glasgow Corporation in the face of competition from the civic theatre movement, which was attracting Arts Council money. This secured the theatre for the future, as television and colour films had led to the closure of the majority of them in Britain. Around the same period, the theatre gained an extension to the rear as part of the Charing Cross Complex which was built to the west of the building in the early 1970s.

However, the King's has been most famous among locals for its annual pantomime - which has starred variety greats such as Stanley Baxter, Jimmy Logan and Rikki Fulton. In 1990 when the City of Glasgow became the first European City of Culture in Britain, the theatre was a main venue, and underwent a programme of major refurbishment.

In 2002 the theatre's day-to-day management was transferred to the Ambassador Theatre Group, becoming their first venue in Scotland, although they have since also taken over the management of the Theatre Royal at the opposite end of the city centre as well as the Edinburgh Playhouse.

In 2004, the theatre celebrated its centenary, and a one-off documentary on the theatre was broadcast on BBC1 Scotland on 31 January 2003. The programme was presented by Elaine C Smith and featured interviews with Gerard Kelly, Stanley Baxter, Paul O'Grady, Tony Roper, Nicholas Parsons and Johnny Beattie, among others.

In 2005, responsibility for production of the pantomime was transferred to the Ambassador Theatre Group subsidiary First Family Entertainment.

The building

Frank Matcham made effective use of the prominent corner site in designing the two facades of the building. Originally, an iron canopy, made by the Saracen Foundry in Possilpark, Glasgow, wrapped around the front of the building, although this appears to have been removed by the Second World War, possibly for munitions production. The facade on Bath Street is a mix of styles, with influences of Baroque and Art Nouveau in red Dumfriesshire sandstone. A pair of two storey pavilions stand near either end of the Bath Street elevation, one providing access to the main foyer whilst the other houses the scenery dock, and opens straight onto the stage. The pavilions are topped with ball finials. Originally a female statue stood on top of either pavilion, but these were removed during the war period,to prevent them becoming damaged, however were subsequently misplaced, and have never been rediscovered.

The theatre provides seating on four levels - Stalls, Grand Circle, Upper Circle and Gallery. Matcham was famous for his innovative style of cantilever construction of the individual seating tiers, which virtually eliminated the need for supporting pillars, and the King's was no exception, with reasonable sightlines from most seats. Victorian and Edwardian theatres were almost always built to segregate patrons at each level, although subsequent modernisations often eradicate this. This has thus far not been the case in the King's, which still has separate entrances, some of which have traces of former pay boxes, now disused. The standard of seating and decoration is also less luxurious as you get further up the house. The Stalls and Grand Circle are accessed via the small main foyer, which still impresses with its barrel vaulted ceiling, horizontal bands of red and white marble, and decorative plasterwork on the ceilings, including caryatids. The Upper Circle is accessed via a door to a stairwell to the left of the main Bath Street entrance. The Gallery is accessed via a staircase at the back of the building with its own entrance on Elmbank Street.

The auditorium seats 1,785. The ceiling panelling fans out from a single centre ceiling rose - each panel originally contained painted scenes, although they are currently plain. The proscenium is surrounded by heavy marble and plasterwork borders. Above the proscenium an elegant design with cherubs flanking a crown and a K/T emblem provides a focal point to the theatre when the curtain is down. The red curtain has simple gilding, but often remains unseen as it is unused for many of today's productions. The seats and drapes are of a rich red material. The safety curtain features a painted design of drapes, and framed in the centre is a projection screen. At Grand Circle level two boxes on either side of the auditorium continue where the grand circle balcony finishes. A further box (now disused) is located at Upper Circle level above this, with an elaborate domed canopy. Three domed alcoves sit along either side of the upper circle. Comedian and actor Billy Connolly famously described it as "like performing inside a wedding cake".

Subsequent alterations to the theatre includes the unfortunate removal of a modern canopy, which ran along most of the Bath Street elevation. This dated from around the 1950s, and was removed in 2004 during a programme of external works, which also included some stone-cleaning and refurbishment. To complement the newly revealed exterior architecture, the facades were floodlit with coloured lights. In 1986, an extension to the western side of the Bath Street elevation provided new dressing room and office accommodation, as well as a new wardrobe room and stage door.


In early 2008, the management of the King's Theatre announced that a full programme of interior refurbishment was planned, to restore the theatre to its full former glory, in time for the Commonwealth Games that the city is to host in 2014. Work for this restoration is expected to commence in the Summer of 2009. The firm chosen as Architects for the work are Simpson & Brown.

The theatre had its Stalls & Grand Circle seating replaced during the autumn 2009, with an authentic style appropriate to the theatre. The stalls has improved legroom and no centre aisle, improving sightlines. The theatre is offering patrons the opportunity to sponsor a seat, with the price including a membership to the Friends scheme that the theatre operates. Other restoration work includes new carpet within the auditorium, new orchestra pit railing, and preparations for the installation of air conditioning.


  • Book - Smith, Graeme - The Theatre Royal: Entertaining a Nation - ISBN 978-0-9559420-0-6
  • Book - Peter, Bruce - Scotland's Splendid Theatres - ISBN 0-7486-6261-8
  • Book - Theatres Trust - Guide to British Theatres - ISBN 0-7136-5688-3
  • Book - Smith, Graeme - Alhambra Glasgow - ISBN 978-0-955942-0-13

Other areas of interest



The theatre has been used for a number of recorded live performances:-

  • Francie & Josie - 1988 'King's High' - An 89-minute video. A 30-minute version was broadcast on BBC Scotland on some occasions. This is now available on DVD.
  • Francie & Josie - Final 'Farewell' Performance. Available on VHS and DVD.
  • Chewin' the Fat Live - Live performance of the hit BBC Scotland Sketch Show
  • Rikki & Me - Live performance on DVD of the story about the life of Scottish theatre and television legend Rikki Fulton.
  • Different Class - The second live DVD by stand-up comedian Ed Byrne.

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