Transformation of King's Theatre in Edinburgh revealed under £35m revamp
It has been a jewel in Edinburgh’s cultural crown for well over a century and traditionally takes centre stage when the city’s festivals are in full swing.
The King’s Theatre may be a sleeping beauty these days, but behind her temporary scaffolding attire she is getting the biggest makeover in her history. The “Grand Old Lady of Leven Street” is a hive of activity after an announcement that a long-awaited overhaul would finally be able to go ahead.
The prospects for the future of the King’s looked grim in January when its operator, Capital Theatres, warned it had just 35 days to secure an additional £8.9 million. But there has been huge progress with the project since it was rescued at the 11th hour when the Scottish Government and Edinburgh City Council agreed to fill the funding gap.
Hidden from public view, its stage and backstage area has been completely removed to make way for new facilities which will allow the venue to attract and stage more shows in future. Behind its facade, the upper level of the King’s is being revamped, with the back of the upper circle removed to create a new major space for school groups, activities, workshops and events.
Elsewhere, historic fire exits are being replaced with new stairwells and lifts, which will open up access to every level of the King’s. Although its foyer will remain largely intact, the new-look King’s is expected to open to the public every day for the first time with the addition of an extension for a new cafe-bar.
And all of its dressing rooms are being stripped out and refurbished as part of a project, which has been in the planning stages for around 20 years.
Photographer Anneleen Lindsay has been capturing progress on the work as part of a long-term documentary project going behind the scenes at the King’s.
John Robb, technical director and project manager at Capital Theatres, is overseeing the work and leading the preparations for the King’s to reopen in time for the 2025 Edinburgh International Festival, which traditionally stages theatre productions in the venue.
He said: “We’re about seven months into the pre-construction work of the project. We’re still doing demolition work on site, but are well into it now. Operationally, the biggest change will be on the stage itself.
"Backstage, we have demolished the floor of the stage and dug down into the basement. One of the things we really wanted to do was to make it easier to put shows into the King’s and to be able to set everything up really quickly.
“The stage used to have a rake on it, but the new stage will be lifted up at the front and down at the back. There will now be a flat stage, which performers very much prefer. It will allow us to have a lot more dance productions, for example.
“It will be much easier in future to get vehicles parked up behind the theatre to do load-ins, which will make the setting up of equipment much easier and allow us to have a quicker turn-around of shows. The King’s normally has a very busy programme anyway, but the ability to put shows in and out quickly will make a big difference in terms to allow us to work the space a bit harder.”
Plywood and dust sheets have been fitted around the King’s to help protect the interior fabric of the building, which is being retained.
Although the look and atmosphere of the King’s is expected to be maintained, particularly within its auditorium and foyer spaces, the redevelopment is expected to hugely transform the accessibility of the venue, both on performance nights and on days when there is nothing happening on stage.
Mr Robb added: “When people come back to inside King’s, big changes won’t really be that apparent. It will look very similar. There will be a new canopy and a new extension onto the side of the building towards Bennetts Bar for the new cafe.
"Public-wise, there will be a massive difference in terms of accessibility throughout the building. One of the main objectives of the project is to make sure the King’s is much more accessible, so the ground-floor of the building, including the cafe, will be open all day, every day.
“The foyer will look very familiar to people, but we are putting in lifts and stairwells on either side of the foyer. The lifts will go to all the front of house areas. The dress circle bar will have a very similar feel, but will be extended.
"It will feel very different and new upstairs, where the theatre is being completely reconfigured.
We will have a new learning and engagement space just below the attic, which will allow us to have school parties and activities happening every day. We’ve not been able to do that anywhere in the King’s before as there just wasn’t any space.”
A major refurbishment of the King’s was originally intended to be carried out in time for its 100th anniversary in 2006. However, the project was delayed by funding problems and did not make significant progress until new designs were finally unveiled in 2018, only for the start of work on the revamp to be halted by the Covid pandemic.
A new campaign, spearheaded by Succession star Brian Cox, to save the King’s was launched last summer when it emerged the project was being threatened by rising costs. However work got underway almost immediately in the spring after the additional funding was secured.
Mr Robb added: “Our objective is to make sure that this work lasts for decades, take the King’s into the 21st century and reduce the requirement for further improvements. Some areas haven’t had considerable refurbishment for many, many years and they have been desperately needed.”
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