Bob Last, whose films include The Illusionist, Sunset Song and House of Mirth, has been unveiled as chair of Leith Theatre as the venue was brought back into temporary use for the Edinburgh International Festival for the first time in three years.
At least £10 million worth of work is needed to bring the building, which has drawn comparisons to Glasgow’s Barrowland Ballroom, up to scratch and properly back to life.
The venue, which played host to acts like AC/DC, Thin Lizzy, Dr. Feelgood and Kraftwerk in its heyday, dates back to 1932, but has not been in use year-round for nearly 40 years.
The building was nearly sold off by the city council in 2004 before a campaign to halt the move was launched based on the fact the venue had been a gift to Leith following its controversial amalgamation with Edinburgh in 1920.
Last, co-founder of the influential Fast Product record label in the 1970s, is a former chair of the Edinburgh International Film Festival and Filmhouse. He was also involved in the setting up of the Creative Scotland and Screen Scotland agencies.
Last teamed up with Sir Sean Connery’s actor-director son Jason to pursue plans to turn a former wave power plant in Leith Docks into a permanent studio facility.
They clinched a £1m deal with the Scottish Government and Screen Scotland in March 2020 to help pay for the initial set-up of the facility. The studio has since been used to shoot the Amazon series The Rig and Anansi Boys.
Leith Theatre was brought back into use by Edinburgh’s Hidden Door festival in 2017 and was later revived as an International Festival venue.
Acts to have appeared there in recent years include Anna Meredith, Kae Tempest, Neneh Cherry, Jarvis Cocker, King Creosote and Young Fathers.
An official announcement about Last’s appointment said: “In a career spanning over 40 years, his expertise is recognised across the creative industries in Scotland and the UK, spanning public policy, education, intellectual property and cultural service.”
Last said: “I’m excited to take on the role of chair of Leith Theatre at a pivotal time.
"The trust’s work has positioned the space ready for a vibrant future across performance of all kinds, building on the site’s legacy and the affection of past audiences to fulfil its potential within Edinburgh and the Leith community’s cultural landscape.
First and foremost, however, this is a wonderful building in need of a newly negotiated lease, capital fundraising, and continuing refurbishment as the vision blossoms.
"I’m looking forward to working with the committed team at Leith Theatre to ensure the complexities of this project can be managed innovatively to deliver an iconic event space.”
Theatre chief executive Lynn Morrison said: “I am absolutely thrilled with the appointment of Bob Last as chair.
"Bob brings with him a wealth of experience and knowledge that is undeniably current to the venue’s journey. He is a powerful ally with incredible commitment to the creative industries both across this city and the wider landscape.
“With the positive focus that Bob’s support will steer, I feel incredibly optimistic about our future.”