Edinburgh’s General Assembly Hall set to be venue for theatre

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The former home of the Scottish Parliament is set to be transformed into a year-round theatre venue.

The 19th century General Assembly Hall, which hosts the annual Church of Scotland summit on The Mound, will host plays on a regular basis if a pilot next month is successful.

The Odd Couple, starring Alan Davies and Bill Bailey, was among the shows on at the Assembley Hall. 'Pic: Neil Hanna

The Odd Couple, starring Alan Davies and Bill Bailey, was among the shows on at the Assembley Hall. 'Pic: Neil Hanna

The Old Town landmark will host its first production outwith the Fringe after promoters Assembly Festival joined forces with two of Scotland’s leading theatre companies.

The 840-capacity venue is also being lined up for several other productions which would be staged in early summer.

The building, which overlooks Princes Street, was used as a temporary home for the Scottish Parliament for several years until the Holyrood complex was completed.

Assembly Festival already owns and operates one year-round venue, the Roxy, in a former church on Roxburgh Place, which has three separate performance spaces. The company also has ambitions to run shows year-round in another city centre venue, Checkpoint, on Bristo, which is used outwith the Fringe as a restaurant.

Assembly Festival has joined forces with Grid Iron and Stellar Quines to stage the premiere of a brand new musical comedy – Bingo! – at the venue on The Mound. Although a temporary stage which is being installed will be removed to make way for the Kirk’s annual gathering in May, some equipment, such as the lighting rig, will be kept in place.

The Assembly Hall was designed by the celebrated 19th century architect David Bruce, whose other buildings in Edinburgh include Fettes College and the Bank of Scotland’s first headquarters on The Mound. Assembly Festival first staged Fringe shows at the building on The Mound in 2005 – the year after it was vacated by MSPS when their new building at the foot of the Royal Mile was ready. The Odd Couple, which starred Alan Davies and Bill Bailey, Glasgow Girls, Nirbhaya and Mies Julie have been among its most successful shows there.

William Burdett-Coutts, artistic director of Assembly Festival, said the Assembly Hall was lined up for the show after it emerged that it was too large a production to fit onto the stage of the Roxy.

He added: “It’s a fantastic building and it’s been a wonderful space for us during the Edinburgh Festival. If it has the potential to be used throughout the year it makes sense to try to do more with it.

“It is both large and intimate. It has all the benefits of a big space but it is also intimate. The wood surroundings give it a really nice feel, the sound is really good and the proximity of the stage to the audience makes you feel like you’re really there at all a show. We will see have to see how it goes next month. If it works then we will try and do more in future.

“Although it’s used for a number of events throughout the year, including the General Assembly, there aren’t any facilities. We are having to building a stage and install a lighting rig next month. We’re going to leave some facilities in before the festival and we may be doing some shows before then, but we’ve nothing confirmed yet.”