Leith Theatre returns with premiere of anti-war satire on Armistice Day

The Last Days of Mankind will be co-directed by Scottish director John Paul McGroarty (right) 'and Yuri Birte Anderson  from Theaterlabor Germany. Picture: Neil Hanna Photography
The Last Days of Mankind will be co-directed by Scottish director John Paul McGroarty (right) 'and Yuri Birte Anderson from Theaterlabor Germany. Picture: Neil Hanna Photography
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A new version of an epic anti-war satire by a Viennese writer will have its world premiere in Scotland on 11 November to mark the centenary of the First World War Armistice.

The Last Days of Mankind, published by Karl Kraus in 1919, will be the first production by Leith Theatre at its high-profile relaunch.

The play, in a new adaptation with a new translation, is the Edinburgh theatre’s first full-scale major production in over 20 years.

It is being co-directed by Scottish director John Paul McGroarty and Yuri Birte Anderson from Theaterlabor, based in Bielefeld in north-west Germany.

The cast features actors from Scotland, Germany, Poland, Serbia, France, Ukraine, Ireland and England.

Kraus, who was one of the most influential writers of the 20th century, took inspiration from first-hand testimonies and newspaper reports, and riled against blind patriotism, militarism, German and Austrian politics and the press.

McGroarty – a former director of both the Traverse Theatre and Leith Festival, and whose life-long ambition was to see the theatre re-open and to produce a work there – said: “Kraus was one of the few artists who kept working through the war; he was writing away, taking in newspaper clippings, writing about things as they happened. He made a docudrama 100 years before anyone had a thought of a ­docudrama.”

The theatre’s auditorium is being transformed into a Viennese café with cabaret-style seating for the performances.

The performance includes the Oliver award-winning cabaret artists The Tiger Lillies performing ten new songs written by Martyn Jacques.

Professor Patrick Healy, who translated Kraus’s work, said: “It is an extraordinary honour that they are using my translation. There never was a ­complete translation and without a translation you can’t get a complete view of what is going on.”

Leith Theatre opened in 1932, but has been “mothballed” twice.

It closed in 1941 after being bombed during the Second World War and did not open again until 1961. It was then used sporadically as a rock venue, hosting bands including Thin Lizzy and AC/DC and for Edinburgh International Festival (EIF) shows.

It closed again between 1989 and 2018, but has been used for a number of events including EIF productions, the Hidden Doors Festival and events by poetry collective Neu! Reekie!.

In 2016, the Leith Theatre Trust was granted a five-year lease from Edinburgh City Council, which may be extended to 30 years.

l The Last Days of Mankind is on 10 November (preview), then 11-16 November. www.thelastdaysofmankindshow.com