Edinburgh theatres face new cash crisis as King's revamp hangs in the balance

Two of Edinburgh's best-known theatres face running out of money within months due to an escalating funding crisis – amid fears a long-awaited refurbishment project may have to be abandoned.

The King's has been a key part of Edinburgh's theatrical landscape since 1906. Picture: Mike Hume

The company running the Festival and King's theatres in Edinburgh has suggested it is in danger of collapsing by the summer due to the £250,000 monthly running costs involved for the two venues while they are closed to the public.

Capital Theatres is frantically trying to raise £10 million by early next year to rescue a long-awaited refurbishment of the King’s Theatre, after being forced to raid cash set aside for the project.

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Chief executive Fiona Gibson also warned that it may be forced to choose between abandoning the project or trying to save jobs at the two venues withing.

The Festival Theatre is on Edinburgh's longest-running theatre site, which dates back to 1830.

The warnings have been issued despite Capital Theatres securing more than £900,000 in lifeline funding from the Scottish Government, Creative Scotland and the National Lottery Heritage Fund in recent months.

Councillors have been told “the only feasible option” for the £25 million King’s project is to ensure work can get underway “at the latest” in 2022.

Ms Gibson, who compared the future of the theatres to “a giant game of Jenga,” said cash set aside for the revamp was being used to meet the running costs of the venues while they remain closed.

She added: “Our operational running costs are £247,000 a month, we have refunded £2.8 million worth of tickets and the loss of our Christmas shows has cost us a further £3.9 million.

“If we had done nothing we’d have had a trading deficit of more than £2 million by March. We’ve had more than £900,000 in funding from Creative Scotland, the Scottish Government and the National Heritage Lottery Fund, and have also used all £435,000 of our unrestricted reserves to offset that, but we still have a deficit of £665,000.

"We’re having to use a £2m development fund we built up for the King’s project just to keep us going. That’s our double jeopardy. We may be faced with really difficult scenarios.

“Our biggest conundrum is do we save jobs and the business or do we save the King’s project? We could probably still manage until June, but after that all bets are off on everything.

“The King’s is critical to us. We’re working hard to try to secure support we need for the project to go ahead. We’re looking for around £10 million, possibly through a combination of grants and loans, by the first quarter, at the latest. We either do it now or we don’t do it.

“We’re speaking to the government and the council. Those are our two avenues. But they obviously have a lot to think about at the moment.”

Ms Gibson is urging a rethink on current restrictions which would only allow venues in areas with the lowest infection levels in Scotland to have maximum audiences of 250.

Ms Gibson said: “It just wouldn’t be viable for us to open on that basis. We need to find a way to come back in a financially viable way. There’s no route map to get out of this at the moment. If we can’t open in March or we have social distancing for a lot longer than that we will have real financial challenges.”

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