New exhibition at Edinburgh’s King’s Theatre recalls stars of the past

Sean Connery - The Seashell, October 1959
Sean Connery - The Seashell, October 1959
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LONG Live The King’s, that’s the title of a brand new exhibition opening at the Leven Street theatre next Tuesday, as the venue remembers the past, while looking to the future and their planned refurbishment.

Built between 1905 and 1906 on the site of Leven Lodge, adjacent to the Drumdryan Brewery, the King’s is built over the now culverted Lochrin Burn, which runs under the building on its course from the Burgh Loch in the Meadows to the Water of Leith at Roseburn.

Margaret Rutherford and Peggy Mount appearing Farewell Farewell Eugene

Margaret Rutherford and Peggy Mount appearing Farewell Farewell Eugene

The King’s opened on 8 December 1906 with a performance of Cinderella, launching a pantomime tradition that remains to this day.

Then it boasted four levels and a capacity of 2,500 - including standing room.

That capacity was reduced to 1,530 in 1951 when the upper most tier was removed.

Today, after further refurbishments, it holds 1,350.

Opening of the Kings Theatre in 1906

Opening of the Kings Theatre in 1906

From 1928 to 1969 The King’s was owned and managed by Howard and Wyndham.

The City Council bought it in 1969 and managed it until 1998, when the Capital Theatres, then The Festival City Theatres Trust, took over the management, while the building remained in the ownership of the City Council, as it does to this day.

Over the years, many famous names have appeared on the stage of The Old Lady of Leven Street, as the theatre is now fondly known to theatre-goers.

A number of them feature in the exhibition, which is presented in association with the Evening News.

Jack Milroy as King Francie and Rikki Fulton in drag as Queen Josie in Sleeping Beauty in 1983

Jack Milroy as King Francie and Rikki Fulton in drag as Queen Josie in Sleeping Beauty in 1983

These include Sir Sean Connery, taken on 13 October, 1959, when the Capital’s best-loved son came home in the play The Seashell.

Others featured include the late, great funnyman Gerard Kelly with River City’s Una McLean promoting Aladdin in 1991 and Noel Coward as Elyot, in the world premiere of Private Lives in August 1930.

Comic legends Margaret Rutherford and Peggy Mount are also pictured, appearing together in a production of Farewell, Farewell, Eugene in 1959 and there is a candid backstage shot of popular panto dame Stanley Baxter preparing to take to the stage during a run of Goldilocks in 1966.

Joan Plowright and Laurence Olivier are there too, in a shot from Love’s Labour’s Lost taken in 1969, and Maria Callas in Bellini’s La Sonnambula, performed as part of the Edinburgh International Festival in 1957, also takes pride of place.

Gerard Kelly and Una McLean - Aladdin 1991

Gerard Kelly and Una McLean - Aladdin 1991

Coming up to date, there are images of James Corden and Suzie Toase in the award-winning play One Man, Two Guvnors from October 2011, and Oscar-winning Juliette Binoche, who was photographed at the theatre in August 2015.

Rock fans of a certain generation might even spot themselves in one shot of fans queueing up at the box office for Led Zeppelin tickets on 10 November 1972.

Since 1906 there have been 110 King’s panto seasons - there was no pantomime staged in 1963, 1965 and 1968 - and many are represented in the display.

Favourites such as Jack Milroy and Rikki Fulton are captured as King Francie and Queen Josie in Sleeping Beauty, in 1983, and VIP backstage visitors are snapped visiting Stanley Baxter in his dressing room in 1976.

However, it is perhaps a shot from the opening of the theatre that captures the magic of the King’s more than any other.

The black and white image depicts the arrival of the theatre’s original Cinderella, actress Phyllis Dare, for that first panto being.

Sir Laurence Olivier and his wife Joan Plowright at a photo-call for Loves's Labours Lost at the King's Theatre Edinburgh in April 1969.

Sir Laurence Olivier and his wife Joan Plowright at a photo-call for Loves's Labours Lost at the King's Theatre Edinburgh in April 1969.

Being greeted by the theatre’s staff and well-wishers, it captures the ongoing spirit of The King’s perfectly. Long live the King’s.

Long Live the King’s!: Remembering The Past As We Look To The Future, presented in association with the Evening News, opens at the King’s Theatre, Leven Street, Tuesday 9 April, during theatre opening hours