Encore for neglected Leith theatre as bands return

Hidden Orchestra at Leith Theatre in 2017. Photograph: Chris Scott
Hidden Orchestra at Leith Theatre in 2017. Photograph: Chris Scott
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The Edinburgh International Festival is set to return to a neglected theatre building in Leith this summer after an absence of 30 years.

An extended showcase of Scottish pop, rock, folk and indie bands will be staged at Leith Theatre, which was regularly deployed by the EIF for major productions until it was closed down by the city council in 1988 due to its declining state.

It will be a triumphant return to the venue’s former glory 14 years after it was nearly sold off to help pay for a refurbishment of the city’s King’s Theatre. The plan was only scuppered in the face of a campaign from locals who recalled that it was gifted to the people of Leith in 1920.

The theatre opened in 1932, but was almost destroyed by a Second World War bomb blast which kept it closed until 1961. It went on to play host to AC/DC, Kraftwerk, Mott the Hoople, John Martyn, Frankie Miller and Thin Lizzy before it fell into disrepair.

The city council agreed three years ago to hand over control of the building to a charitable trust, which has secured the backing of Sir Rod Stewart, Ewen Bremner, Shirley Manson, Irvine Welsh and The Proclaimers for a campaign to revive the venue.

The building reopened temporarily last May when it played host to the Hidden Door festival, which brought acts like Anna Meredith, Idlewild and Kathryn Joseph to Leith. Hidden Door will announce in the next few days which acts will grace its stage, while the EIF will be announcing its plans for the building next month.

The bid to reopen the theatre on a permanent basis received a major boost last Thursday when the city council pledged £1 million towards its restoration.

Council leader Adam McVey, pictured left, believes it has the potential to become “the coolest arts venue in the entire country”.

He said: “I went to a couple of events there when it was reopened for the Hidden Door festival and it was incredible. It felt like the kind of venue that exists in Glasgow, and that people in Edinburgh wonder why we don’t have. It’s a hidden gem.

“We want to spread out festival activity more around the city, and Leith Theatre could become an anchor to attract audiences, promoters and artists to the area.”

The EIF came close to reviving Leith Theatre in 
2014 for the National 
Theatre of Scotland’s trilogy The James Plays, which ended up at the Festival Theatre due to the estimated cost of refurbishing the building.