King's Theatre: Revamp of Edinburgh theatre suffers setback as city council refuse removal of Dress Circle Bar
A major refurbishment of Edinburgh’s King’s Theatre has been hit by a setback after a plan to remove one of its bars was refused by the city council over concerns about the impact on the building’s “cultural significance”.
An application to take out the theatre’s Dress Circle Bar – dubbed “one of the truly great theatrical front of house spaces in the British Isles” – was made in a bid to improve accessibility as part of the £35 million revamp.
Capital Theatres, which runs the famous council-owned venue, said it was left disappointed by the decision and would appeal against it. High-profile actors including Brian Cox and Alan Cumming have backed a campaign raising funds for the project, which hopes to secure the 117-year-old theatre’s future. A £2m grant was recently awarded from the UK Government’s levelling up fund, but a gap of around £500,000 remains.
The latest plan to progress the works sought approval to remove the curved bar on the first floor and replace it with a new one to the south of the room alongside “changes to opening between the Dress Circle Bar and Cruikshank Room”.
However, council officials said this would “significantly diminish the cultural significance of the building’s interior and thereby would harm the building’s cultural significance, character and appearance” and refused planning permission, following an objection from Historic Environment Scotland.
A 2020 application for alterations said the Dress Circle Bar was “one of the truly great theatrical front of house spaces in the British Isles”. “It combines wonderful artisan crafts and skills to combine into an extremely atmospheric space,” a statement said.
The plans said the bar’s popularity was “its only downfall”, adding it “has probably been too small from the day it was built”. A council report written in response to the bid to get rid of the historic timber panelled counter said it was a “principal feature”.
The report added: “It’s removal and the proposed installation of the replacement bar and new shelving to the south of the room would diminish the character and cultural significance of the category A-listed King’s Theatre’s exceptional high-quality interior, harmful to the special architectural and historic character, integrity and appearance of the listed building.”
A spokesperson for Capital Theatres said the new design “seeks to balance protecting the King’s unique heritage with the need to make the building accessible, compliant, and fit for audience needs”.
They said: “The proposed alterations to the Dress Circle Bar have been designed by leading theatre architects Bennetts Associates and are supported by the Theatres Trust.
“They have been developed taking careful consideration of the conservation plan written by theatre heritage specialists and the heritage impact assessment undertaken by a conservation architect, to ensure the design met the relevant criteria.
“The proposed alterations would significantly improve the operational efficiency of the bar and would make it fully accessible both for our staff and our audiences”.
However, city planners said the “lack of space for customers” did not “outweigh the need to protect the character of the building or justify the loss of such an iconic element within the overall architectural composition of the building”.
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