The Playhouse was founded as The Red Barn at 12 Woodstock Road, North Oxford, in 1923 by J. B. Fagan. The early history of the theatre is documented by the theatre director, Norman Marshall in his 1947 book, The Other Theatre. Don Chapman has also provided a comprehensive study of the theatre in his 2008 book, Oxford Playhouse: High and Low Drama in a University City.
The current theatre building on the south side of Beaumont Street was designed by Sir Edward Maufe and was completed in 1938. It is faced with stone, in keeping with other early 19th century Regency buildings in the street.
Well-known actors who have appeared on the stage at the Playhouse include Rowan Atkinson, Ronnie Barker, Dirk Bogarde, Judi Dench, John Gielgud, Ian McKellen, Dudley Moore, Bill Hicks and Maggie Smith. Susannah York gave her final performance at the Playhouse in August 2010 in Ronald Harwood's Quartet. The journalist and critic Christopher Hitchens worked as a mover of scenery at the Playhouse during his time as an undergraduate at Balliol College, Oxford.
The Oxford Playhouse was the crucible from which Prospect Theatre Company was created by Manager Elizabeth Sweeting and Resident Stage Manager Iain Mackintosh in 1961. Prospect Theatre Company became the third major UK theatre company after the National Theatre and Royal Shakespeare Company, and between 1963 and 1976 Prospect toured 75 productions to 125 theatres in 21 countries.
The Greek theatre director Minos Volanakis was an associate director at the theatre; his productions included Jean Genet's The Maids (1963–4) and The Balcony (1967), and Jean Giraudoux's Madwoman of Chaillot.
A charitable trust runs the Playhouse, through a professional management and direction team, as a theatre for the local community. Like much of North Oxford, Oxford Playhouse is owned by St John's College. It was closed for a number of years due to lack of funding, but is now refurbished and thriving, with a 663-seat capacity in the main auditorium.
Burton Taylor Studio
Oxford Playhouse has close relations with Oxford University and is the home stage of the Oxford University Dramatic Society. The Playhouse also manages on behalf of the university the nearby Burton Taylor Studio, named in honour of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. "The BT" is a 50-seat studio theatre on Gloucester Street, close to the Oxford Playhouse. It originated in 1966, when Richard Burton donated money towards the creation of a rehearsal space, also occasionally used for performance, named the Burton Rooms. A couple of decades later, students from the Oxford University Dramatic Society (OUDS) established the current tradition of the venue as a home for regular student productions. The Burton Taylor Studio programs a mix of student and professional productions throughout the year.
- "Oxford Playhouse". Oxfordshire Blue Plaques Scheme. Retrieved 3 April 2011.
- Marshall, Norman (1947). The Other Theatre. London: Lehmann J. Lehmann.
- Chapman, Don (2008). Oxford Playhouse: High and Low Drama in a University City. Society for Theatre Research, University of Hertfordshire Press. ISBN 978-1-902806-86-0.
- Sherwood, Jennifer; Pevsner, Nikolaus (1974). The Buildings of England: Oxfordshire. Penguin Books. p. 324. ISBN 0-14-071045-0.
- Charlie Rose: Greenroom - Christopher Hitchens, 29 February 2008
- Chapman (2008, pages 184, 186, 196–197) and The New York Times obituary for Volanakis.
- "Oxford Playhouse: Burton Taylor Studio". Oxford Playhouse. Retrieved 5 February 2015.
- Anonymous. 1999. Obituary in The New York Times, November 20, 1999.
- Chapman, Don. 2008. Oxford Playhouse: High and Low Drama in a University City. Hatfield: University of Hertfordshire Press. ISBN 1-902806-87-5.
- Marshall, Norman. 1947. The Other Theatre. London: John Lehmann.
- Parkinson, David. 2003. Oxford at the Movies. P.Ink Books.