AT 106 years old, she was one old lady who was long overdue a makeover.
Although it came in at £2.6 million, no-one can deny that the “Old Lady of Leven Street” doesn’t look all the better for it.
Edinburgh’s historic King’s Theatre will be opening its doors tonight to give councillors and friends of the venue a look at the results of stage one of its ongoing refurbishment.
It may not seem as dramatic as some of the productions it stages, but there have been some very significant changes at the new-look King’s.
The majority of audience members will now be able to enjoy between four and eight inches of extra leg room while watching the action on stage from brand new seats, installed throughout the stalls and dress circle.
While the knees of those in the upper circle will have to suffer until next summer – though half of the old seats have been restuffed – they will at least not feel as if they are under the stage lights.
A comfort cooling system has been installed on the roof, with ventilation running throughout the building.
As well as a lift offering access to the stalls for wheelchair users, more than 120 of the seats in the auditorium are now removable, improving disabled access and meaning any adjustments that need to be made between shows can be carried out far more quickly and easily.
New carpets have been laid from the stalls to the dress circle and walls and cornices have been re-papered, repainted and re-polished, highlighting many of the building’s stunning original features.
Brian Loudon, general manager of Festival City Theatres Trust, is clearly happy with the results, despite the fact the revamp was scaled back by the cash-strapped council two years ago from the original £6m refurbishment project.
He told the Evening News: “This has been a costly enterprise, but we managed to pack a lot into the budget we had.”
The council’s culture leader, Councillor Richard Lewis, added: “We wanted to focus on maximising the audience experience.
“That’s very important as theatres aren’t just in competition with each other anymore. Cinemas especially put a great onus on people having comfort and space.”
The search for funding to complete the revamp continues but for now the theatre is preparing for its official opening on August 11.
For those who can’t wait until then, one big change to the theatre is visible to anyone walking past.
“The box office was last remodelled in 1985 and the new design is significant improvement,” said Mr Loudon.
“It looks so much better and gives a great first impression of the building as you can see activity going on from the outside.
“The old box office was very dark and cramped, not a good working environment at all, and quite awkward for customers to get in and out of without having to fight their way through crowds. Everyone is thrilled with the new one.”
The refurbishment of the theatre began in September last year, when scaffolding was erected around the still-open building.
First on the agenda was an upgrade of the exterior, including replacement of some of the crumbling stonework and changes to the roof of the venue.
Mr Loudon added: “Parts of the building are listed, so we liaised with Historic Scotland, who also gave us a grant of £264,000, on the best way to move forward. Most of their money was spent on making the building wind and watertight.
“One hundred-year-old sandstone starts to deteriorate, and if you look carefully at the outside of the building you will notice that some of the higher-up stones are new.”
The King’s is also making inroads to becoming a greener building, with insulation now installed on the roof, along with a heat recovery system. The system recycles heat to make the building more environmentally friendly, and will save an estimated £5000 a year on bills.
All of which could well come in handy as the pricey project continues.
Of course, if it means the Old Lady is still standing in 106 years’ time, then it will be money well spent.
The King’s Theatre was built in 1905, opening for business one year later.
The first stone of the project, undertaken by Edinburgh builder William Stewart Cruikshank, was laid by Andrew Carnegie, the Scottish-American businessman and philanthropist. A newspaper and coins were buried underneath.
The first show performed in the theatre was Cinderella, which was also the last show performed before the venue closed for its most recent upgrade.
Until 1937, the King’s closed during the summer. However, after a variety show given four weeks by a sceptical A Stewart Cruikshank, William’s son, became a sell-out, summer shows became one of the most popular events on the calendar.
The theatre closed for ten months in 1950 to undergo its first refurbishment, when it was reduced to three levels by the removal of the unsafe Gallery.
The King’s was sold to Edinburgh City Council in 1966 following the death of Stewart Cruikshank.
In 1985, the theatre underwent a second refurbishment, where
£1.25 million was spent widening aisles and seats, enlarging the orchestra pit, and restoring the woodwork, carpets, glass and marble.
In 1998, the King’s was merged with the Festival Theatre under the management of the Festival City Theatres Trust.
• £2.6 million spent in total
• £298,605 spent on seats
• 1319 seating capacity, down from 1350
• 824 new seats – 124 removable
• 500 tins of paint used
• 400 external stones replaced
• 380 square metres of new carpet
• 75 new stair rods installed
• 35 seats lost to incorporate extra
• Access for 6 wheelchairs at one time (up from four)
• 4-8 inches (10-20cm) more leg room
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