Revamp of Edinburgh's King's Theatre to start next year after Scottish Government backs £25m project
Ministers have signed off a £6.5 million grant towards a refurbishment which will take nearly two years to complete, but is expected to secure the future of 115-year-old venue.
The government will be the major funder of the revamp, the biggest in the history of the venue, which is planned to more than double the opening hours of the King’s and increase its visitor numbers by around 50 per cent.
Major improvements will be carried out to its performance and backstage areas, a new learning and education studio will be created and the venue will have a new street-level café and bar, while its existing bars and foyers will be overhauled.
The funding support, which is said to make the redevelopment a “viable” project, has been secured after the timetable for the work had to be put back by a year shortly after the shutdown of cultural venues in Scotland in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic.
An official announcement about the government funding said a final public funding appeal would be launched to secure the final £3 million needed for the project. However funding already in place will allow work to get underway in September 2022 and be finished in time for the summer festivals in 2024.
The government has agreed to back the revamp after Capital Theatres, the trust which runs the King’s and the Festival Theatre on behalf of the city council, secured £1.55 million in backing from the government to help it survive the impact of the prolonged pandemic-enforced closure. Both venues have only recently welcomed back their first audiences.
The King’s plays a crucial part in the cultural landscape of the city, hosting shows for the Edinburgh International Festival, a hugely-popular annual pantomime and touring theatre, musicals and children’s shows.
Capital Theatres has warned for years that the King’s is in “dire need of major redevelopment” to bring it up to 21st century standards, raising fears that the venue faced closure unless improvements could be made. A public campaign to raise the £25 million was launched in 2017 and secured the backing of panto stars Andy Gray, Allan Stewart and Grant Stott, artist and playwright John Byrne, actors Bill Paterson and Brian Cox, author Ian Rankin and stage and screen star Elaine C Smith.
The city council has already agreed to put £4m into the revamp, while it is hoped the National Lottery Heritage Fund will put in around £1.7m, after £174,000 was provided two years ago to help develop detailed designs for the project, which Edinburgh-based architects Bennetts Associates have been working on.
Culture minister Jenny Gilruth said: “The King’s Theatre has been a jewel in Edinburgh’s cultural crown for more than a 100 years, with generations of audiences enjoying a rich diversity of shows from its annual pantomimes to world premieres at the Edinburgh International Festival.
“The Scottish Government is pleased to support the redevelopment of the grade A-listed theatre and enable the King’s Theatre to reach out to a wider range of audience and increase its community engagement.”
Capital Theatres chief executive Fiona Gibson said: “We’re overjoyed with this show of support and confidence in the redevelopment project from the Scottish Government.
“Far from lose momentum on the project, 15 months of closure has made us all the more determined to ensure the King’s Theatre can honour its illustrious past with a thriving future at the heart of Edinburgh and Scotland’s cultural life
"The Scottish Government’s grant, along with the grant and loan funding from the council, makes this project viable. This funding stands alongside the National Lottery Heritage Fund grant we are working so hard to secure, and the tireless efforts of our development team.
“There is, however, still a way to go to reach our financial target and we’ll be launching a public fundraising campaign later in the year. This last push will build on the generous support shown during our period of closure, so the people of Edinburgh and Scotland can continue to play their part by helping us secure the future of the King’s as a historical and cultural treasure.”
The King’s has played host to the likes of Noel Coward, Laurence Olivier, Maggie Smith, Simon Callow, Maria Callas, Ian McKellen, Rikki Fulton and Sean Connery since it opened in 1906.
A planned £14 million revamp in time for its centenary was shelved after the project was turned down for backing by the Heritage Lottery Fund and the then Scottish Arts Council.
A £2.6m scheme to carry out urgent repairs, ensure the building was wind and watertight, and install new seating in the stalls and dress circle was carried out in 2012.
However a 2017 report report for the council, which has owned the building since 1969, warned that it was at risk of closure with a radical overhaul.
Donald Wilson, culture convener at the city council, said: “The King's has been a beloved Edinburgh theatre for over a century, programming the best in touring drama, hosting some of the most talented community and non-professional
groups; and certainly the best in pantomime, as well as bringing all kinds of theatre experiences to the city from all over the country, including London's West End.
“The 'Grand Old Lady of Leven Street' has always been Edinburgh's theatre for everyone.”
Vice-convener Amy McNeese-Mechan added: "The King’s is in need of this capital project to bring the theatre back to a standard fit for the 21st century whilst acknowledging the incredible history.
“This capital funding contribution is great news and a fantastic achievement for the theatre and will substantially strengthen its redevelopment ambitions, ensuring that we will all be able to continue to enjoy a great night at the King's for many more years and generations to come.”