Curtain’s up on theatre’s encore two decades on

Folkopera's 1986 Festival production of Verdi's Aida staged at Leith Theatre
Folkopera's 1986 Festival production of Verdi's Aida staged at Leith Theatre
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The Leith Theatre is set to 
reopen for the first time in more than two decades, with a charity poised to be granted a lease for the historic arts venue.

A five-year lease for the 1930s B-listed building on Ferry Road is expected to be granted to the Leith Theatre Trust next month.

Leith Theatre. Picture: Jon Savage

Leith Theatre. Picture: Jon Savage

The trust is planning to use the building as a hub for the annual Edinburgh International Science Festival, performance spaces for aerial and circus arts, and a mid-to-large scale Fringe venue.

The organisation is aiming to spend up to £1 million on the vacant space’s refurbishment, with the lease allowing it to secure funding through different grant schemes.

The main theatre, which can hold up to 1500 people and has previously hosted The Kinks and the Rolling Stones, has been closed since 1988.

Trust chairman Philip Neaves said the charity was confident it could reopen the theatre within three years, based on the lease being approved.

He said: “There isn’t demand for another permanent 1500-seat theatre in Edinburgh, but what there is demand for is a flexible space that can be used by lots of different people for lots of different activities.

“We had in mind theatre, people coming to rehearse before going on to a bigger venue, and art exhibitions. We’ve been talking to the Traverse Theatre, who are looking for rehearsal space in Leith. Weddings is also a big market.

“We’re pretty sure that during the Fringe we can get people to come in and take a block booking.”

Leith Theatre was originally built as a compensatory gift following the incorporation of the Burgh of Leith into Edinburgh.

The building was opened in 1932, but has since shut twice for significant periods. Bomb damage inflicted on the structure during the Second World War in 1941 led to the theatre’s closure for two decades.

Once secured, funding will be spent on improving utilities, seating and upgrading the dressing rooms.

Edinburgh City Council’s budget and finance committee is set to approve the lease at the group’s next meeting on 
June 6.

City culture convener Richard Lewis said the council was “very supportive” of the vision to reinstate the complex to its former glory.

Leith ward councillor Adam McVey said: “Leith owes a debt of gratitude to the Leith Theatre Trust. They have not only shown an interest in taking on Thomas Morton Hall, but plan to refurbish the theatre as well.”