Liverpool theatres chief to take charge of £25m King's revamp in Edinburgh

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The boss of two of Liverpool’s leading theatres and a former “business ambassador” for the Prince of Wales is to be charged with leading the rebirth of one of Edinburgh’s most historic venues.


Fiona Gibson, who is currently in charge of the Everyman and Playhouse in Liverpool, will be responsible for steering the £25 million refurbishment of the King’s Theatre to completion after she takes up her post in April.

She has declared an intention to help forge greater links between the city’s theatres, including the Traverse and Royal Lyceum, and encourage the Edinburgh International Festival to collaborate with its rival event in Manchester.

The 113-year-old King’s, one of the key venues used for the Edinburgh International Festival each year, is expected to close close in September 2021 for the biggest makeover in its history.

It will take around 18 months to create a new street level cafe-bar which would be open throughout the day, develop a new events and hospitality space, install lifts and refurbish backstage areas at the King’s, which currently attracts more than 200,000 people through its doors every year.

The King's, which hosts Edinburgh’s biggest Christmas pantomime, would also boast a new learning and education studio, as well as refurbished dressing rooms and wardrobe facilities.

The new-look King's Theatre is due to be unveiled in 2023. Image: Bennetts Associates.

The new-look King's Theatre is due to be unveiled in 2023. Image: Bennetts Associates.

The venue, where Maria Callas, Ian McKellen, Maggie Smith, Margot Fontaine and Juliette Binoche have all performed previously, is a key venue for theatre productions touring the UK, but misses out on some productions because its facilities are not up to scratch.

A flattened stage is proposed for the new-look King's to allow it to host world-class dance and opera shows in future.

Ms Gibson will take over from Duncan Hendry, the current chief executive of Capital Theatres, the trust which runs the King’s and Festival Theatre on behalf of the city council.

Born in Glasgow, Ms Gibson worked for global consultancy giant Accenture for more than 20 years before being appointed business director of the Octagon Theatre in Bolton in January 2017, where she was part of the team leading an £11.6 million redevelopment.

Fiona Gibson will take charge of the King's and Festival theatres in April.

Fiona Gibson will take charge of the King's and Festival theatres in April.

Ms Gibson, who was previously a regional ambassador for Prince Charles in the north-west of England, was appointed interim chief executive of the two Liverpool theatres just over a year ago.

The forthcoming revamp for the King's is expected to double the number of hours it is open to public and attract an extra 100,000 visitors per year.

She said: “The King’s and Festival theatres are iconic cultural institutions for Edinburgh and Scotland, both nationally and internationally. It felt like an incredible opportunity when this job came up, particularly with the forthcoming capital project at the King’s.

“Some work has been carried out over the years and its auditorium is beautiful but if you want to attract the right theatre companies it’s really important that you have the good back-of-house areas and facilities, and that it is also fully accessible and a social hub for the local community.

The revamp planned for the King's Theatre includes a new street-level cafe-bar, "learning studio," stage and hospitality facilities.

The revamp planned for the King's Theatre includes a new street-level cafe-bar, "learning studio," stage and hospitality facilities.

Ms Gibson, who has roots in the Highlands, where her father was a whisky distiller, studied theatre at Glasgow University and has been a regular visitor to Edinburgh’s festivals since appearing as a student.

She added: “I think it’s really important that Edinburgh’s and Manchester’ festivals try to learn from each other in future, really push the boundaries and do exciting stuff together. Why wouldn’t they?

“I’d also like to see all the theatres in Edinburgh collaborating. If you want to develop really good creative talent and invest in new people coming through the best way to do that is for is all to work together.

“To really make collaboration work you have to invest in it and have shared ambitions. Those need to be defined and worked at.”