Capital waterfront landmark to host first ever play

Customs House in Leith will host The Devil's Larder. Picture: Steven Scott Taylor
Customs House in Leith will host The Devil's Larder. Picture: Steven Scott Taylor
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TWO of the biggest names in the Scottish theatre world are to join forces to stage the first ever play inside a historic landmark in Leith.

Leading “site specific” company Grid Iron, which specialises in creating work for unusual spaces, and the Traverse Theatre will be taking over the 19th century Custom House.

A week of “promenade” performances of The Devil’s Larder, a show exploring the impact of food on society, will be staged around the building in October.

Grid Iron is reviving one of its biggest Fringe hits for the first-ever theatrical production inside Custom House, which was taken over by the city council last year.

Grid Iron’s office sits opposite Custom House and its artistic director, Jude Doherty, said she had long harboured ambitions of being able to use it for a production. A brand new version will be part of the Traverse Theatre’s autumn season.

Ms Doherty said: “We’re quite lucky to be able to use the building, as we happened to be looking for a venue for the revival of the show. It’s a big beast of a place. But I’ve been really interested in it since 1998.

“I actually looked at it for our second Fringe show, Gargantua, which we ended up putting on in the space that became Underbelly’s venue in the Cowgate.”

The Devil’s Larder, staged after hours in Debenhams on Princes Street in 2005, was billed as “an uncanny, uncomfortable examination of the envy, love, revenge, hypocrisy, loss and lust which seethe beneath the false calm of the menu, the shopping list and the recipe”.

Audiences of up to 40 will be the first to see it again inside the specially-revamped building in Leith, which was used as a museums storage facility until recently, before it heads off on tour to Selkirk, Oban and Sutherland.

The Georgian building, which dates back to 1810, is widely regarded as the most significant historic landmark in Leith’s waterfront area. Designed by architect Robert Reid, it was built to create a new venue for the collection of payable duty on goods imported through Leith. The oldest building of its kind in the country, it was bought from National Museums Scotland by the council after a public campaign to secure its future amid fears it could have been converted into flats or a bar-restaurant complex. The Scottish Historic Buildings Trust has agreed a lease with the local authority and is already working with arts trust Out of the Blue to find uses for Custom House.

Councillor Richard Lewis, the city’s culture leader, said: “Since we reopened Custom House, it has already become a hive of activity. More than 3000 people have visited the trust’s open days. I’m thrilled it is being brought back to life.

“Theatre is a great temporary use for the building before it is restored, and it will be interesting to see how the performances are received.”