The Theatres Trust

Capitol (Aberdeen)

  • Theatre ID
  • Built / Converted
  • Dates of use
    • 1933 - 1996: (the building was dark for some time before the closure was officially announced)
  • Current state
  • Current use
    Licensed premises (Nightclub and bars)
  • Address
    431 Union Street, Aberdeen, Grampian, Scotland


The Capitol was an outstanding intact survivor from the era of the super cinema, and was also among the first British cinemas in the Moderne style. It was always considered to be Aberdeen’s most prestigious cinema with annual pantomime seasons and other regular live shows. It hosted concerts from the 1950s, but, after failing as a rock venue, then fell into disuse, except for the former caféhich functioned as a bar. In 1998 it was advertised for sale. Throughout, Mackenzie’s innovative design was heavily influenced by contemporary European cinemas and theatres, such as the Savoy in London. The dignified façe is of classical proportion and is in unadorned dressed granite, eight bays wide with three tall windows in the centre, soaring above the entrance canopy to a simple pediment, which originally carried the name in neon letters. Neon was also used to outline the roof line and the façe was floodlit in white, an early use of German-inspired ‘Night Architecture’ in Britain. The entrance, flanked by shop units, has a V-shaped canopy and doors in mahogany with bold half-circular glasses and stainless steel inlays. Each set closes to form a dramatic ‘target’ design. The remainder of the structure is faced in plain brick with a pitched slate roof. Within, the building was originally decorated throughout in modish pale blue with silver leaf (reflecting Aberdeen’s status as the ‘silver city by the sea’). Following protests that it appeared too cold, it was quickly re-decorated in a pink and gold scheme. The outer foyer has elegant full height wood veneered walls and terrazzo flooring with typically enigmatic abstract patterns of mosaic. Grand staircases with chromed balustrades sweep up to the lofty circle and stalls foyers, complete with tinted mirrors and contemporary wall and ceiling light fittings. The powder room in the ladies’ toilet was pure Hollywood, with a swirling carpet, bevelled mirrors and fluted make-up tables in black, cream and mint green. Nothing had been radically altered since the 1930s (see postscript). The auditorium has one balcony with truncated slips fairing into the side walls, which are splayed to the rectangular proscenium. To either side, there are elegant organ and ventilation grilles and tableau panels with stylised foliage. Otherwise, the space was largely unadorned and relied on an extensive scheme of concealed Holophane lighting for its effects, one of the first and best installations of its kind. It glowed seductively in orange. The organ is a Compton. The ravages of time and excessive use by drinkers and rock concert patrons exacted their toll, but the seats and carpets had genuine thirties patterns. This made the Capitol unique, considering its size and city centre location. The Capitol is an outstanding building which deserved a full restoration. Although the stage is of restricted depth and a road behind would preclude its enlargement, it has good acoustics and sightlines and could host stand-up comedy and folk or rock concerts. POSTSCRIPT: July 03 The splendid building described by Bruce Peter above has been brutally altered. Only the façe on Union Street and the area surrounding the proscenium arch remain recognisable. All other traces of decorative material or of the original architecture of the building have been removed, concealed or painted out. The stage house rear wall is now three dramatic glazed panels and the levelled front stalls floor and stage area a Chicago Rock Café Only the proscenium arch and grilles on either side remain, as though under sufferance. All visible evidence of the circle and the form of the auditorium have been obliterated. As a disgraceful failure of the historic building control system, this must now rank only with the Philharmonic Hall in Cardiff.

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Streetscape showing the site previously occupied by the Capitol Cinema, Aberdeen, 2003
© The Theatres Trust

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  • Events
    • 1933 - 1996 Use: (the building was dark for some time before the closure was officially announced)
    • 1933 Design/Construction: Son & George
      • A G R Mackenzie of A Marshall Mackenzie - Architect
    • 1980 - 1989 Alteration: café converted to public bar
      • Unknown - Architect
    • 2002 - 2003 Alteration: Array front stalls and stage converted to café-bar, circle to a nightclub
      • Unknown - Architect
    • 1933 Design/Construction:
    • 1933 Owner/Management: Aberdeen Picture Palaces
    • 1941 Owner/Management: Aberdeen Picture Palaces (James F Donald)
    • 2002 Owner/Management: Carlton Rock Ltd
  • Capacities
    • Original: 1800
    • Later: 1951: 2080
  • Listings
    • Grade B - This theatre is such a rare unaltered example of a thirties ‘super’ cinema of exceptional architectural quality and complete down to such original details as an organ, period upholstery, carpeting and confectionery booths that it surely deserves listing a
  • Dimensions
    • Stage dimensions: Depth: 9.75m (32ft)
    • Proscenium width: 11.6m (38ft)
    • Orchestra pit: original dimensions with organ on lift, now apparently being restored

Of the period

Façade of the Lewisham Theatre
Broadway Theatre (London)

Have you seen?

Proscenium at the former Grand Theatre, Doncaster, 1995
Grand (Doncaster)

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