Persevering with plan to stage shows in the port will bring economic benefits
Suggest to a Leither that he or she lives in Edinburgh and you can expect a degree of indignation. To its denizens, Leith is a separate entity; the boundary between it and the capital city distinct and enduring. To others – understandably – Edinburgh and the port blur into one.
But we suspect that residents of Leith may accept the good sense of identifying the area as part of the city as the Edinburgh International Festival moves into town.
The new director of the EIF, Fergus Linehan, believes there is a “natural audience” for the event in Leith and says that staging events there would enhance the festival experience for visitors to the city.
Linehan hopes to reopen the run-down Leith Theatre building in time for the 70th anniversary of the festival in 2017. This proposal is especially exciting. The theatre was built as a gift to Leith following its controversial 1920 merger with Edinburgh and has been unused for decades. It is in a dilapidated state and is on Scotland’s official “buildings at risk” register.
The National Theatre of Scotland considered the possibility of using the space to stage last year’s trilogy of James plays but the cost of £500,000 to restore the venue to a functioning state was considered too hefty. How wonderful it would be to see that theatre brought back to life, not just for the Festival but all year round.
Linehan’s proposals make perfect sense. The EIF is important to the Edinburgh economy, ensuring that many millions are spent by visitors each summer. The local economy of Leith could certainly do with a share of that revenue.
Linehan points out that a great many of Edinburgh’s artists and writers live in Leith and says that there is already a loyal, engaged audience, ready and waiting for festival events on their doorstep.
Leith represents something of a regeneration success story. The once run-down area now bustles with life. The Leith of Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting is in the past. Now it’s an area of chic bars and restaurants, where traditional architecture and bold new housing nestle side-by-side.
Leithers can be proud of the transformation of their area. But perhaps, for just a month each year, they could settle for being citizens of Edinburgh.