Leith lining up for Edinburgh Festival role

THE new director of the Edinburgh International Festival is planning to extend the event to Leith in time for the event’s 70th anniversary.

Edinburghs new festival director, Fergus Linehan, has high hopes of  re-opening the run-down Leith Theatre (below). Picture: Lisa Ferguson
Edinburghs new festival director, Fergus Linehan, has high hopes of re-opening the run-down Leith Theatre (below). Picture: Lisa Ferguson

Fergus Linehan believes there is a “natural audience” for the event in the historic port and that staging events there would “enhance the festival experience” for visitors.

The Irishman, who launched his debut EIF programme this weekend, said he could not 
understand why Leith was virtually excluded from this month’s festivals when it was so close to the city centre.

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And he revealed ambitions for the EIF to reopen the run-down Leith Theatre building, where precious festival perf­ormances were held regularly until the late 1980s, for the landmark anniversary in 2017.

Leith Theatre. Picture: Colin Hattersley

Linehan said there was no good reason why audiences would not travel to the area when the EIF had successfully staged shows at Ingliston.

He said: “People give off all the time about Edinburgh being so packed – both in terms of where people stay, as well as where the shows are – but Leith’s just down the road. When you’ve been living in London, you think of somewhere 15 minutes away as
being part of the same neighbourhood, but Leith is considered to be its own world.

“There’s a really lively and engaged audience in Leith. A lot of Edinburgh’s artists and writers also live there. I don’t know exactly how we do it, but it feels like a natural place for us to extend into.”

He added: “If there was something really compelling, well-programmed and well-communicated it would really enhance the festival experience for people to be in that part of town.”

The theatre, built as a gift to Leith following its controversial 1920 merger with Edinburgh, has been unused for decades. It is said to be in a dil­apidated state and is on Scotland’s official “buildings at risk” register.

Scotland on Sunday can rev­eal it was considered by the EIF and the National Theatre of Scotland for last year’s James Plays trilogy, but needed at least £500,000 of work.

Linehan added: “The festival did have a look at Leith Theatre for the James Plays. But the building needs two stages. It needs someone to go in and seal it and tidy it up, then it needs someone to go in and put in a load of stuff. It’s a bit much to ask just one show to wear all of that.

“I have a romantic idea for the festival’s 70th anniversary in 2017 that we mark the key moments in our history. One of those is the festival using Leith Theatre and that might be something to work towards.

“Usually when you go into a theatre of that age there is a tiny little shelf of a stage, but it actually has a huge stage. If it could be fixed up, there’s not actually that much to be done. The dimensions of it and the whole sort of grandeur of it mean it would be fantastic to do something with it.”