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The first Playhouse Theatre opened in 1882 as the Royal Avenue Theatre, built for comic operas and burlesques. This lasted a few years, with a shift to dramatic plays that saw George Bernard Shaw write his first play as a last minute favour to the creative director, and end up making a career out of it.
With fewer than 25 years of performances, the Royal Avenue Theatre was undergoing building works when the adjacent Charing Cross Station collapsed onto it and crushed six of the workers. The theatre reopened in 1907 under its current name The Playhouse Theatre. The machinery underneath the stage is still the same as when the theatre was built.
It carried on life as a mid-size theatre until the 1950s, when the BBC acquired it for radio and live recordings. It was occasionally used in the 1960s as a live music venue for rock bands such as Led Zeppelin and The Beatles. Despite these high-profile gigs, once the BBC left in 1976, the empty and unused theatre looked like it was going to face demolition – luckily, the idea to build an extra storey which could be rented out to businesses helped the Playhouse Theatre remodel, and it opened again in 1987.