‘I STOOD at the back of the balcony for a matinee and at the front of the stalls for an evening performance. Both were sold out. At the end of the show I looked back and thought, ‘Wow! That’s 3000 people on their feet . . . now all we have to do is repeat that eight times a week for the rest of the year. I’m looking forward to the challenge.”
Adam Knight is in buoyant mood. He was just 18 when he first came to Edinburgh, one of the cast of a National Youth Theatre Fringe show. For three weeks he performed daily at the Chaplaincy Centre, Potterrow.
Now, 17 years on, as the curtain rises on West Side Story, at the Playhouse tonight, he’s back in the Capital, recalling those humble beginnings.
Mr Knight has just been appointed general manager of the Playhouse, Ambassador Theatre Group’s Scottish flagship, and a venue that could not be further removed from the makeshift Fringe space he played all those years ago.
The 35-year-old reveals, however, that it was his experience in the city that fateful summer that cemented his determination to carve a career in theatre, although he admits that, initially, his ambition was to be an actor. He even trained at London’s Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art and appeared in a national tour of Blood Brothers.
“The National Youth Theatre brought a devised piece called 2/18 Underground to Edinburgh, I played Tim Temple, a trendy vicar,” he recalls, laughing. “You can tell it was a devised piece, all the characters were named after London Tube stations, as it was set on the Underground.”
He continues: “My first impression of Edinburgh was that the architecture is just fantastic. Everything about it, from the Castle to the Royal Mile. And that crazy flyering thing that happens there during the Fringe. The atmosphere, the buzz, all of that was just fantastic too. But what I really remember are the evenings spent in the Pleasance Courtyard putting the theatre world to rights and coming up with fantastic new ideas for shows . . . all of which were a bit vague come the morning.”
Mr Knight was in good company on that first visit. The piece was directed by Laurie Sansom, recently appointed director of the National Theatre of Scotland.
“The contacts I made, and the people I worked with on that show, made up my mind that I wanted to pursue a career in theatre. In fact, just the other day, I went to the Royal Lyceum to see Private Lives and Kirsty Besterman was on the stage, another of those people from those NYT days.”
So enamoured with the whole experience was Mr Knight, that when he returned to London, he enrolled for drama school, but not before spending some time working as an assistant stage manager at the Connaught Theatre, Worthing, and as education trainee at the Chichester Festival Theatre.
“For some people being an actor is all they want to do, for me it was more than that. I wanted to know about the whole thing. To go into producing, to learn about the business side of things,” he explains.
“I’ve always loved everything about theatre. Even as an actor, I was always interested in how the lighting designer created the design, how the set designer came up with his concept, how the show was being marketed, the buildings themselves. The whole thing fascinated me.”
His opportunity to explore the bigger picture came when, at the age of 24, he was appointed deputy manager of London’s Comedy Theatre, now The Harold Pinter Theatre.
Promotion followed, and Mr Knight found himself at the helm of such historic West End venues as the Playhouse, Phoenix and Piccadilly Theatres, before being appointed the first manager of the prestigious Trafalgar Studios.
Three years later, he took charge of London’s Savoy Theatre, where he oversaw the opening of the smash hit Broadway musical Legally Blonde. A feat which won him the inaugural London Theatre Manager of the Year Award.
“I was very proud to have won that,” he smiles. “And very pleasantly surprised when my name came up and I got handed the gong by Greg Dyke. That was a great honour.”
Mr Knight joins the Playhouse, which has been without a general nanager for six months, from the Grand Opera House in Belfast, where he was operations director. ATG was looking for the right person to take on its biggest venue, he says, adding that he is honoured they chose him.
“I am very proud to be looking after the Playhouse for the next period, it’s such a fantastic venue,” he says, “and part of what I will be doing here is adding value, seeing what I can add that may not exist at the moment. Additions that will give more to the audience.”
His ideas, he reveals, include giving audience members and local drama students opportunities to get up close and personal with the stars and creatives of the shows which tour to the venue.
He explains: “We don’t really have a creative learning offer at the moment, and I think there is something we can do. While we will continue to build on the success of our annual Stage Experience for young people, we need look at what else we can offer. For example, professional singing workshops with the musical directors of shows that are coming in to us.
“There is the opportunity to create a really good mix, with open access to the public, and more bespoke opportunities for those about to enter the business or already working in it. You can’t beat seeing someone on stage, and the more we can allow our audiences to feel they are participating the better.”
Knight also hopes to build on the venue’s Fringe season, which takes place in its recently refurbished bar, The Boards.
“I want to look at how we might be able to do cabaret there throughout the year, maybe some comedy semi-regularly too. There is an opportunity to learn from what we do on the Fringe and take that through to the rest of the year.”
He adds: “I have stood on the stage, where Laurel and Hardy stood, and looked up at the auditorium. We’ve got a lot of seats, but the relationship between the stage and the house is strangely intimate. I’d like to see big-name comedians, big-name bands coming back to us. There’s an opportunity for everything.”
In the meantime, Mr Knight has some of the biggest touring musicals in the business to welcome to the Playhouse, including the Scottish premiere of Jersey Boys, which tells the story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, in October. He can’t wait and has no hesitation when asked what show he’d like to see at Greenside Place.
“I’d love to see Cameron Mackintosh’s Miss Saigon,” he says. “Also, We Will Rock You has announced it is closing on the West End, I’d love to see that back too. But I’d also like to see us opening shows.
“Edinburgh is the Capital. We are the Broadway of Scotland. I’d love to see us be the first venue for some of the large-scale musicals, like Jersey Boys, that’s going to be very exciting.”