Trustees draft in experts to help save Scotland's original Kings Theatre
It sits on Kirkcaldy’s High Street, and boasts an illustrious past, but a deeply uncertain future as a small band of trustees, two staff, and volunteers take on the huge task of tackling two decades of decay to bring it back into use as Fife’s largest performing arts venue
Built in 1904, it pre-dates its famous Edinburgh namesake by two years, and is one of three Scottish theatres on the ‘at risk’ register.
It boasted a marble staircase imported from Italy in 1904, and some of its art deco features have survived the ravages of time and conversion into a cinema in 1937 - it was the Rialto, the MGM and, latterly, the ABC - which continued until 2000 when the doors closed.
It remained largely undisturbed until 2016 when Kings Theatre Kirkcaldy Limited was formed, and set about tackling the neglect.
And it is extensive.
The three auditoriums are in a perilous state, with significant damage to the ceilings, the erosion and damage caused by infestations of thousands of pigeons over 20 years, and debris filling many rooms.
But glimpses of its former glory remain – the foyer’s stained glass window has endured some neglect, and the ice cream kiosk still stands in the corridor.
The theatre forms part of a sprawling complex which includes the adjacent former YWCA building on the Esplanade, and, nestling in between, an old ballroom.
Over the past five years the group has turned the YW into the vibrant Kings Live Lounge which was just getting into its stride when the pandemic forced its closure. It has also removed skip-loads of rubbish from the ballroom.
This month contractors arrived on site to carry out emergency roof repairs vital to protect the venue after it suffered storm damage last autumn.
The newly created plaza outside the Live Lounge - part of the redevelopment of the town’s waterfront - has led to plans to introduce alfresco catering and entertainment as COVID restrictions start to ease.
But it is the former theatre which remains the trust’s biggest challenge.
Emergency funding has allowed it to appoint an architect to assess the complex and take a fresh look at how it can be developed.
The essential work being done gives the trustees some vital breathing space to see how the they can integrate the three buildings - and how the plans stack up financially.
The group has secured support from Historic Environment Scotland as well as Creative Scotland’s Music Venues Trust, Fife Council’s town centre improvement grant, and the Weir Foundation - and continues to pursue all avenues for additional support.
John Murray, who chairs the trust, said: “Our vision is of a flexible event space - one that could host everything from theatre and music to graduations.
“That vision has changed since we first set out, and the architects, who will be on site next week, will be able to look at the entire space and advise on what is feasible.”The ghost signs about the brick doorways still point patrons to the circle, and on to the smaller cinemas created downstairs when the building was last converted- but a generation of locals have now grown up with no movie house in town.