A BLUE plaque has been unveiled to commemorate the birth of theatre in Oxford.

Dozens of theatre-lovers gathered on the site of the first Oxford Playhouse, now the Oxford University Language Centre, in Woodstock Road.

The playhouse stood there between 1923 and 1938 before moving to its current location in Beaumont Street.

And it was where stars like John Gielgud, Flora Robson and Margaret Rutherford started their stage careers.

The plaque was unveiled by Priscilla Tolkien, daughter of Lord of the Rings author JRR Tolkien and lifelong supporter of the Playhouse.

She said: “This is a remarkable occasion and it is incredible to think this was the first Playhouse in the city.

“I first came to the Playhouse 77 years ago to see my first pantomime, Dick Whittington.

“I can’t remember much, but I remember falling in love with the cat.

“And that was the beginning of my lifelong love of theatre.”

Miss Tolkien also remembered the time she spent watching her father play Chaucer in The Canterbury Tales one summer.

She said: “My father had to learn long passages, which was a considerable feat of memory but I was proud and fascinated by it all.

“It is a great privilege to be here today and to be able to say how much I owe to the playhouse and to celebrate its history.”

Playhouse director Michelle Dickson said: “Over the 15 years the theatre was in Woodstock Road, members managed to raise £25,000 for a new theatre.

“And that is where we are still housed today so it is lovely to be able to recognise where the Playhouse started.”

Miss Dickson said that back in the 1920s and 30s, actors used to have to perform a different play every week, so would learn their lines for the next week during the day.

She said: “That’s how people like Maggie Smith and Ronnie Barker learned their trade in Oxford. Then later on, we welcomed actors including Michael Palin and Alan Bennett.

“Michael once said this was ‘the most important theatre in his life’.”