top of page

Tivoli Theatre Aberdeen

Aberdeen Tivoli Variety Theatre Collection.  Scottish Music Hall Society


The Tivoli Theatre is situated in Guild Street, Aberdeen and was first built in 1872, originally opening as Her Majesty's Theatre. (This should not be confused with the later His Majesty's Theatre on Rosemount Viaduct, which opened in 1906.) The Theatre was originally designed by the well known Theatre Architect C. J. Phipps and James Matthews. James Matthews also designed the earlier Renaissance Corinthian Town and Country Bank building in Aberdeen, and Aberdeen's Grammar School and Palace Hotel. 

The Building News and Engineering Journal reported on the construction of the Theatre in their 23rd of August 1872 edition saying:- 'A new theatre and opera house is in course of erection at Aberdeen, and is interesting as illustrating the constructive capabilities of concrete in a direction somewhat out of the beaten track. As readers of the Building News well know, concrete has been very largely used of late years for constructing retaining walls in railway cuttings, and also for the erection of the walls of cottages, railway sheds, warehouses, and gardens, but the new theatre at Aberdeen is, we believe, the first building of its kind in which that material has been so largely used...

...The site of the building is in Guild-street, about midway between Stirling-street and Carmelite-street. Its length is 74ft.8in., and its mean depth to Trinity-street, 90ft., the height of the front being 50ft. from the street. The bases and piers of the facade are of white pick-dressed granite, and the columns are of polished Peterhead granite, with capitals and string courses of Newton freestone, the arching of the doors and windows being of white pick-dressed granite and red sandstone from Tarriff, filled in with white ornamental bricks. The style is Gothic. The side and party walls are all of concrete, consisting of 8 parts gravel and sand and 1 of Portland cement.  There are two shops in the facade, one 17ft. by 11ft., and the other 21½ft. by 17ft. There are five entrances for the public, all in the front. The stage entrance is in Trinity-street. Commodious refreshment and retiring rooms are provided for every class of visitors.


The auditorium is of the horseshoe form, and will be lighted by a sunlight. The proscenium is 28ft. wide. The fronts of the boxes and balcony will be of ornamental open ironwork. The theatre will be seated for 1,680 persons, but will accommodate 1,800 on an emergency. The stage measures 53½ft. in length, and has a mean depth of 29ft., the scene-dock being 16ft. by 14ft.  The joint architects (according to the Aberdeen Journal) are Messrs. C. J. Phipps, F. S. A., London, and Matthews, Aberdeen. The contractors for the concrete work are Messrs. Drake Bros. of London, for the mason work, Mr. Bisset; for the carpenter work, Messrs. Wamack & Daniel; and for slater work, Mr Davidson, Aberdeen. Mr. William Brown is clerk of the works.'

The above text in quotes was first published in the Building News and Engineering Journal, 23rd of August 1872.

The Building News and Engineering Journal also reported on the new Theatre shortly after it opened, in their 27th of December 1872 edition saying:- 'This building, erected from the designs and under the superintendence of Mr. C. J. Phipps. F.S.A., of London, was opened on Thursday week. The project was only started in the commencement of the present year, chiefly through the instrumentality of Captain Stevenson, of Viewfield, and several other influential gentlemen, who formed a limited company, the shares of which were so good and so liberally taken up that in May last contracts were entered into with the following tradesmen:-

Mason work - Messrs. Peter Bisset & Son, Aberdeen. Concrete work - Messrs. Drake & Co., London. Carpenter work - Messrs. Warrack and Daniel, Aberdeen. Iron work - Messrs. James Garvie & Co., Aberdeen. Plumber work - Mr. Alexander Lamb, Aberdeen. Slater work - Mr. George Davidson, Aberdeen. Plaster work - Mr. James Morrison, Aberdeen. Glazier and painter work - Mr. Alexander Stephen, Aberdeen. Gas-fitting work - Mr. Thomson's trustees, Aberdeen.

The total amount of these contracts was upwards of £6,000, and the sums for decorations, special gaswork sun-burners, furnishing, and fittings, will make the total cost about £8,000. The New Theatre occupies a site between Guild-street and Trinity-street, and is close to the South Parish School. The building is of a mixed Gothic character, and the front may be said to be generally built of granite and freestone. The ashlar work is of blue Rubislaw granite, and the dressings of white Kemnay granite and red Turriff sandstone. The capitals and string courses are composed of Newton freestone, and the fillings-in of the window arches are composed of Pether's patent ornamental bricks, which in this case are of a yellow colour. The columns, which are six in number, and which are a very handsome feature of the entrances, are of polished Peterhead granite, and have been made by Messrs. Macdonald, Field, & Co.


Attached to the main building, and extending towards the railway, is a wing which contains the dressing rooms, green room, band room, refreshment rooms, having on the ground floor a shop, and the entrance to the gallery. There are also separate entrances to the pit, boxes, balcony, and private boxes, there being in addition a large shop, with extensive cellarage, in the centre of the main building.

Apart from the front, the other walls of the building have been constructed of concrete by Drake's patent apparatus. Many of the other requisites of the building, such as the gallery staircase, &c., have been formed of this material, the wearing power of which is quite equal to our hardest granite. This, we are informed, is the largest building of the kind in which concrete has been used. The whole of the entrances are well lighted, and the access is all that could be desired. As we have said, the staircase to the gallery is of concrete, and the other staircases are in wainscot oak.

In the case of the balcony and private boxes, the staircase leads to a crush room, in which are ladies' retiring rooms, hat and cloak rooms, &c. A lobby also leads into a commodious refreshment-room, solely set apart for the occupants of the balcony and the private boxes. From the crush room, corridors lead to each side of the house, the proscenium boxes being communicated with by circular staircases from the balcony. The balcony is provided with Mr. Phipps's chairs, which are made so as to turn up to give free access along each row of seats. The chairs are covered with handsome crimson cloth. The ordinary boxes are reached by a separate staircase, and this part of the house is also supplied with a refreshment-room. The front seats of the gallery are to be devoted to an amphitheatre.

The stage and its appliances have been constructed in the most modern and scientific manner, Mr. T. Rhodes, London, having had the active charge of this part of the work. The stage is 54ft. wide ; the proscenium is 28ft. in width. The act drop is a painting of the well-known "Silver Strand" of Loch Katrine, having an ornamental border, and was painted by Mr. George Gordon, scenic artist, London.

As to the interior of the building, we may state that the theatre is seated for 1,650, while there is accommodation for well up to 1,800. The gallery is seated for 700, the pit for 550, the boxes for 240, the balcony for 100, and the private boxes from 8 to 10 each; and it is stated that great pains have been taken, so that good views of the stage are to be had in every part of it, and that the gallery and the pit have been made with a slope sufficient to enable the occupants of each tier of seats to see easily over the heads of those in front of them.

Further, we may mention, in regard to the decorations, that they are generally of a Greek and Romanesque character. Several of the combinations of ornament are very elaborate, and the effect, as a whole, is exceedingly good. The prevailing colour of the decorations appears to be blue upon a dark cream coloured ground, while the draperies and chairs are of crimson. The walls of the pit, boxes, and gallery are covered with a handsome paper, having a gilt and red design upon an unobtrusive sage green ground. The balcony, which has three rows of seats, behind which is an upper circle of six rows, projects over the pit, and the gallery runs over the balcony to the front. The balcony front is an open trellis work of elaborate design, very richly gilt, and the lines of the balcony and gallery are continued upwards, and form one continuous circle round the ceiling. The cornice is beautifully moulded, and decorated in gold and colours, and the ceiling itself is divided into eight semi-circular compartments, having a sun-light in the centre.

There are three private boxes on each side of the stage, two on the balcony tier, and one on the pit level. These are divided by triplet columns, effectively decorated, and terminating with carved capitals. The proscenium is arched over, and there are also arches over the private boxes, the lunettes being filled with scenes from Scott's "Lay of the Last Minstrel," " Marmion." "The Lady of the Lake," and "The Lord of the Isles."

Altogether, the building is most comfortably fitted up, and we are quite safe in saying that there is not a more handsome or better finished theatre in Scotland; indeed, we may state that it is one of the best of the many theatres that Mr. Phipps has constructed. Mr. Phipps himself, during the last week, superintended the finishing of the work. Mr. Browne, of London, was clerk of the works.'

The above text in quotes was first published in the Building News and Engineering Journal, 27th of December 1872.


On the 5th of June 1897 the Theatre was closed for a few months so that it could be altered to the designs of the now renowned Theatre Architect Frank Matcham. The Theatre's proprietor at the time was Robert Arthur and its Manager was John Cavanah.  The alterations, which were carried out by Brown & Watt Architects of Aberdeen, included removing the shops which had previously been situated on the ground floor of the building allowing for better accesss to the Pit and Stalls, and carrying out improvements to the Gallery Stairs, and adding new stairs and enlarged corridors for the Dress Circle.

The Theatre reopened on the 19th of July 1897 with a production of Sir Augustus Harris and Henry Pettitt's 'Human Nature' by the Henry Dundas Company.  In 1910 the Theatre, now renamed the Tivoli Theatre, was again altered by Frank Matcham, this time more extensively. Matcham's new plans for the Theatre were for converting it into a Music Hall with accommodation for some 1,600 to 1,700 people, he provided more exits for easy escape in case of fire, new large waiting rooms, and improved sight lines to its partially reconstructed auditorium.

The Aberdeen Journal of the 5th of February 1910 reported on the changes saying:- 'Dealing first with the entrances, the present circle entrance and foyer will remain. To the right of the vestibule a wide marble staircase leads through a fine waiting room, handsomely decorated and furnished, with direct access to the stalls. The pit is entered to the left of the vestibule through a similar waiting room, with a staircase leading to the rear of the pit seats. A new fireproof staircase occupies a portion of the old shop property, giving an extra exit from the grand circle, and a new exit from the stalls is also obtained here. The old exit from the pit, which projected into the auditorium and took up a considerable amount of the seating, is done away with and the space floored over and seated, and the result will be a fine square pit, which will be comfortably seated and decorated. Another exit is to be formed at the side of the pit adjoining that from the stalls, in place of the one done away with. The present exits from the gallery and circle will remain, the number of exits then consisting of no fewer than ten, each being separate and distinct from the other, all the doors being made so that they give the full width of passage, when opened, and all being fitted with alarm exit bolts. Additional retiring rooms will be provided from all parts, and a splendid saloon is planned, with easy approaches from the circle and stalls.  External alterations include an improvement of the Guild Street frontage, handsome new polished doors being introduced, and the front made attractive by means of electric lights, etc. A verandah to be erected along the front will protect the public in inclement weather.

Great improvements are to be made in the auditorium, which when completed, will, it is said, compare favourably with that of any theatre of its size in the kingdom. The front of the stage is to be set back, giving additional floor space. The private boxes and sides of the circle and gallery are to be cleared away and reconstructed, improving the sight lines and increasing the seating capacity.  By the removal of the present division of the dress and upper circles and additions to and rearrangement of the seating, there will be provided one grand circle.  A new side staircase will allow free access between the circle and stalls.  The designs show that the decorations will be very artistic, and the furnishings sumptuous and comfortable. Rich draperies, carpets, and velvet tip-up chairs and upholstered seating, and brilliant electric lighting, complete a scheme which, it is claimed, will provide Aberdeen with one of the best high-class variety theatres in the country.'

The above text in quotes (edited) was first published in the Aberdeen Journal 5th of February 1910.

The firms involved with the above mentioned reconstruction of the Tivoli Theatre in 1910 included D. Macandrew and Company (Carpentry), Marshall Watt and Company (Painters), James Scott and Son (Plasterers), John Worling (Plumbers), Robert Bright (Electrical Engineer), and George Donald & Sons (Decorations). The cost of the work would eventually amount to some £6,000. The Aberdeen Journal reported again on the reconstruction of the Theatre in their 2nd of April 1910 edition saying:- 'The scheme of decoration is characteristic of Louis XV. period, a style which lends itself admirably to the fibrous plaster enrichments. The ceiling of the auditorium, which is circular in shape, is divided with high relief fibrous plaster into four shaped panels, in which are to be painted four frescoes representing the seasons, the colour scheme giving the impression of the radiant glow of an autumn sunset, the electric lighting and sunlight in the centre enhancing the effect. The opening of the proscenium is richly moulded in fibrous plaster having a large lunette panel, containing a painting representing Tragedy and Comedy, with attendant cupids and satyrs. The box facades, pediments, fronts of dress circle, balcony, and gallery are of a most elaborate description in high relief fibrous, richly gilded, and enhanced by the effect of beautiful electric fittings, projecting from the various figured groups of the plaster work. There are to be two life-size figures exquisitely modelled, surmounting the column on each side of the proscenium, representing Art and Music. The draperies of the boxes, etc., are to be of a soft shade of old rose colour, embroidered with gold. The modelling and frescoes are to be executed by Messrs Banbury and Wright. of Gray's School of Art, both well-known in artistic circles. Messrs George Donald and Sons are to be commended on their enterprise in securing such an important contract.'

The above text in quotes (edited) was first published in the Aberdeen Journal 2nd of April 1910.

The Tivoli Theatre reopened with a variety production on the afternoon of the 18th of July 1910 under the Management of Walter Gilbert who had previously been running the nearby Palace Theatre for the past 12 years. Performers in the opening production and for the rest of the week included the Harmony Four, the Creo Brothers, the Avolos, Moeney Cash, Ethal Ra-Leslie, Tom Lee, Dix and Dox, and the Sisters Herbert. The Orchestra was under the baton of John C. Shepherd.

Randle Collins, son of impresario Horace Collins, writes:- "The Aberdeen Tivoli evolved into its present style in 1911. From its earliest days much interest in it was shown by Fred Collins who produced many artistes and shows to its stage. His son Horace H. Collins became managing director on Fred's death in 1931 and was responsible for a complete modernisation in 1938. The Tivoli remained under his control until his death in 1947. Fred Collins Variety Agency continued to present a restricted number of attractions up until their closure in 1957" - Randle Collins - More about the Collins Variety Agency can be seen here.

The Tivoli went on to have a long life as a variety Theatre but its last live performance came in 1966 when the Theatre was converted for Bingo use, but even this ended in 1997 and the Theatre then remained empty and deteriorating for many years.

However, in July 2009 the Theatre was bought by the businessman Brian Hendry under the name of the 'Tivoli Theatre Company Ltd.', who said that they hoped to spend around £5m over the following years in order to restore the building to its former glory and bring it back to live Theatre use. The following year the Theatre received funding from the 'Green Townscape Heritage Initiative' so that repairs to the roof and masonry, and the windows and doors, could be carried out, this was all achieved by 2012 and at the same time the facade's original features were reinstated. The Theatre then received additional funding from the 'Historic Scotland Building Repair Grant Scheme' for the restoration of its plasterwork and frescos.

The Tivoli Theatre reopened in a limited capacity on the 25th of October 2013 with the play 'Inferno' by Thomas Bywater. This was followed by a production of the pantomime Robin Hood and Babes in the Wood in December 2013. Despite reopening however, only the stalls area could be used as the upper levels were still being restored.


Despite reopening the Grade A Listed Tivoli Theatre is still Listed on the Scottish Civic Trust’s Buildings at Risk Register for Scotland but the Tivoli Theatre Company Ltd.


For the past few years the Tivoli has now returned to full time live theatrical use.

The story of the Tivoli comes by Kind Courtesy of the Arthur Lloyd website at 

Programmes from The Bob Bain Variety Collection.

bottom of page