King's Theatre

Kirkcaldy’s main cinema until its closure in 2000. Currently being restored to create Fife’s largest performing arts venue.

Dilapidated auditorium of King's Kirkcaldy.
Address
252-262 High Street, Kirkcaldy, Fife, KY1 1LA
Risk Rating
5 (Community Value: 3, Star Rating: 1, Risk Factor: 1)
Local Authority
Fife Council
Architect
J D Swanston & William Williamson
Date of Construction
1904
Listing
Category B (façade only)
Capacity
Estimated at 2,000

Significance

Originally opening as the King’s Theatre in 1904, the building at the High Street’s east end was of lavish construction with balcony overhang, boxes on either side and Italian marble stairways, with only the latter remaining today. In January 1905 a young Charlie Chaplin played three nights here in a Sherlock Holmes play before finding fame in Hollywood soon after. The building became an opera house and later a cinema, remaining Kirkcaldy’s main picture house until its closure in 2000. The façade of the original 1904 building still survives. The interior was once similar to the architect’s magnificent King's Theatre in Edinburgh. It was gutted in 1937 to be rebuilt in streamlined cinema mode, and was later converted to three screens. Nevertheless, some of the original decorative plasterwork to the ceiling, stained glass window, art deco box office and theatre wall decoration still exists, preserved behind later alterations.

Why is this theatre at risk?

The King’s Theatre Kirkcaldy has been on the Theatres at Risk Register since 2016.

After closing as a cinema in 2000 the building was sold to the Commercial Pub Company and planning permission was granted for the conversion to a pub and performance venue. However, listed building consent for internal and external decorations was later withdrawn. The building was sold again in 2005 but the building remained empty, suffering from a lack of maintenance. The building was bought by Kings Theatre Kirkcaldy Ltd in August 2016. The organisation has since made the building weathertight and cleared debris from inside with the support of local volunteers.

A conditions survey considering the three key buildings of the site, Kings Theatre, 262 High Street and No 9 Esplanade, was completed by Page/Park Architects in 2021. It revealed that the theatre building is in very poor condition, with no live services and limited access.

An asbestos survey was also carried out in January 2021, identifying asbestos that would need to be removed before any refurbishment or demolition could take place.

Kings Theatre Kirkcaldy Ltd received grant funding from Historic Environment Scotland to carry out temporary roof repairs over the main theatre auditorium to prevent further water ingress and deterioration of the fabric.

Progress is positive but there is still a long way to go before the future of the building is secured. The group continues to fundraise to realise its ambition to restore and fully reopen the building as a performing arts venue.

Theatre potential

There is much local interest in restoring the building for community use and Kings Theatre Kirkcaldy Limited plans to restore the building to create Fife’s largest performing arts venue. It plans to return the three former cinema screens to one large auditorium to host an audience of between 1,750 and 2,000.

The project is part of a wider ambition that includes the former YWCA at the rear of the building, which has also been bought by the Kings Theatre Kirkcaldy Limited. The YWCA has been adapted to form a live event space and a 50-seat café and restaurant to help subsidise the works to the theatre. Fife College is partnering for this aspect of the work. The building also features space for a recording studio, offices, training and community use, as well as a flexible 500-seat multi-use theatre hall.

Current situation

The project gathered great momentum and energy under the strong leadership of Kings Theatre Kirkcaldy Ltd; early fundraising success enabled substantial progress in a very limited period of time. Theatres Trust supported the group through its workshop programme and by providing advice on aspects of building work.

In September 2019 the group launched the Kings Live Lounge in the former YWCA building, showing a mixed programme of music, comedy and cabaret, running alongside events for community groups. This was a milestone for the group, helping to promote its work and fund the renovation of the theatre.

The group’s ambition had been to reopen the main theatre by 2022 and progress had been positive, but the pandemic has been a setback, with the building and Live Lounge closed for much of 2020. Though the building reopened in September 2021 with music, comedy and cabaret, and a pantomime from December 2021, programming was disrupted again by further pandemic restrictions.

The King’s Theatre has been awarded a number of grants in 2021 including:

  • £87,000 from Historic Environment Scotland for emergency roofing repairs to make the building watertight.
  • Placed Based Investment Programme funding from Fife Council to redevelop the YWCA as a creative arts space with café / bar. This follows major investment by the council into Kirkcaldy’s Waterfront, aimed at reconnecting the waterfront and the High Street and encouraging visitors.
  • Funding through Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisation’s ‘Adapt & Thrive’ scheme to open an outdoor bistro and outdoor performance space, turning the area into a focal point on the esplanade.
  • Emergency funding to commission architects to undertake an appraisal of both the condition and the opportunities of the King’s on the High Street, the YWCA on the Esplanade and the Ballroom in between.

King’s Theatre Kirkcaldy Limited was one of the recipients of support from our Theatres at Risk Capacity Building Programme in 2021, receiving £7,000 to commission a community feasibility study for the theatre. This will provide a comprehensive understanding of the audience and market demand based on detailed market analysis and feedback from the local community. There has been some delay in commissioning this piece of work while the group has focused on the fabric repairs for No 9 Esplanade and the launching of the Live Lounge in September 2021, but Theatres Trust is working with them to ensure it is delivered.

Theatres Trust will continue to support the Kings Theatre Kirkcaldy Ltd in its ambition to restore and reopen the main theatre as a large-scale performance space for the people of Kirkcaldy and district and as a project to help transform the town centre already part of a wider seafront project and adjacent to new build housing in the High Street. Together with the repurposing of the adjacent YWCA, the buildings provide an opportunity to deliver a thriving creative entertainment hub for both the local and wider area. However, until the funding needed for this is secured, the theatre will remain on the Theatres at Risk Register.

Update March 2022

We supported a planning application to enable safe public access into the foyer and to reveal some of the King's original plasterwork, stained-glass window and terrazzo floor. This will raise further awareness of the wider  project, contributing to its longer-term conservation. Read our full planning response.

Campaign video (from 2016)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8ofQWGUMkZ0

Main image King's Theatre, Kirkcaldy, David Clark