Former Leith cinema to reopen as Hidden Door Festival venue

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A former art deco cinema is to brought back to life as a festival venue - more than 45 years after it screened its last films.

The former State Cinema in Leith will be completely transformed for the nine-day Hidden Door Festival in May.

The former State Cinema in Leith. Picture: contributed

The former State Cinema in Leith. Picture: contributed

It will be running across two venues for the first time next year after organisers announced a return to the nearby former Leith Theatre.

It was reopened for this year’s festival almost 30 years after the last show was staged in the venue, which previously hosted concerts by AC/DC, Thin Lizzy Slade and Kraftwerk.

The event, which is being staged for the fifth year in 2018, specialises in staging live music, visual arts, theatre, spoken word and film events in neglected buildings and unused spaces.

The B-listed building has been confirmed for the next Hidden Foor Festival months after it emerged the building was earmarked for 37 apartments. Its new owners, Glencairn Properties, will allow the festival to be staged there before it is redeveloped.

The State Cinema, which opened in 1938, was one of the earliest leisure developments, incorporating several shops, billiard halls and a skittle alley.

However dwindling audiences saw the complex close down and become a Mecca bingo hall. Other incarnations have included a church and a nightclub.

David Martin, creative director of Hidden Door​, said “This year’s festival left the public - not to mention the Hidden Door team and contributors - wanting more.

“Edinburgh is a city busy with festivals, but Hidden Door offers something different, opening up new spaces for new artists and creative talent to bring something fresh to the mix, celebrating innovation and experimentation in the arts.

“We will continue this ambition and we look forward to presenting the best Hidden Door yet next May.”

Hazel Johnson, venue and site team leader at the State Cinema building, said: “There’s a lot to do there, but Hidden Door has always been up for the challenge and this felt like the perfect addition to our plans for the theatre just around the corner. The developers have been very open to the possibility of using the cinema, and it’s a great match for our skills in bringing spaces back to life.”

Daryl Teague, director of Glencairn Properties​, said: ​“The cinema building, originally designed by architect Sir James Miller, first opened as part of a multi-use leisure development. It’s had a number of different uses over the years and played an important part in the Leith community.

“It’s fitting that this incredible building, that’s sadly been left to ruin over recent years, will provide a backdrop for the arts in Edinburgh.”

Originally built for the people of Leith after its controversial amalgamation into the city of Edinburgh in 1920, the theatre building had to be closed from 1941 till 1961 after suffering bomb damage in the First World War. Its auditorium gradually fell into disrepair in the 1980s and a sell-off was considered after the turn of the century to help pay for a revamp of the King’s Theatre in the city centre.