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 is the outstanding intact survivor from the era of the super cinema, and among the first British cinemas built 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 music venue, then fell into disuse be the late 1990s, except for the former caféhich functioned as a bar. It reopened in 2002 and for a few years operated as a nightclub. The Capitol is currently threatened with substantial demolition with redevelopment schemes approved in 2010 and in 2013. Throughout, Mackenzie’s innovative design was heavily influenced by contemporary European cinema and theatre design (such as the Savoy in London). The dignified façe is of classical proportion and is in unadorned dressed granite. It is 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 is almost entirely symmetrical and 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. Through another set of doors is the inner foyer, with its original streamlined confectionery stall in veneer with chrome and etched glass trimmings. Grand staircases with chromed balustrades sweep up to the lofty circle and stalls foyers, which are complete with tinted mirrors and contemporary wall and ceiling light fittings. The powder room in the ladies’ toilet is 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. 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 is largely unadorned and relies on an extensive scheme of concealed Holophane lighting for its effects, one of the first and best installations of its kind. In 1998, it glowed seductively in orange. The organ is a Compton. The ravages of time and excessive use by drinkers and rock concert patrons have exacted their toll, but the seats and carpets are genuine thirties patterns. This makes the Capitol unique, considering its size and city centre location. It is an outstanding building which deserves a full restoration. Although the stage is of restricted depth and a road behind would preclude its enlargement, the Capitol still has potential as an unaltered, commodious building with good acoustics and sightlines. It could host stand-up comedy and folk or rock concerts. The Capitol is now threatened with substantial demolition. In 2010 approval was granted to demolish the auditorium and construct a seven level hotel, but this scheme did not proceed. On 7 November 2013 a new redevelopment scheme was approved by Aberdeen City Council. This latest scheme will refurbish the Union Street elevation, foyer, staircase and former tea rooms and the historic proscenium arch and organ will be removed and stored for possible reuse elsewhere. The auditorium/ stage will be demolished to make way for a 10 level office tower.

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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
    • 1933 Design/Construction:
    • 1933 Owner/Management: Aberdeen Picture Palaces
    • 1941 Owner/Management: Aberdeen Picture Palaces (James F Donald)
    • 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
    • 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

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