King's Theatre

The only surviving theatre in the Dundee area capable of hosting large touring productions. Much of the opulent original auditorium remains and could be restored.

Exterior of Dundee Kings, the ground floor units are in alternative use.
Address
21-29 Cowgate, Dundee
Risk Rating
6 (Community Value: 2, Star Rating: 2, Risk Factor: 2)
Local Authority
Dundee City Council
Owner
25 – 29 Cowgate: Sava Estates Ltd; 23 Cowgate: Duthus Properties Ltd; 21 Cowgate: Private owner
Operator
The Small Town Club
Architect
James Thomson
Date of Construction
1909
Listing
Category B
Capacity
Estimated at 1,000

Significance

The theatre has an impressive frontage and originally had lavish interiors including spacious front of house areas lined in mahogany and teak and a very opulent auditorium with decorative panels in the Edwardian manner. It features Baroque and Rococo style plasterwork, a fine saucer domed ceiling with frescoes, and a marble proscenium frame. Work to the theatre in 1955 sadly included the partial demolition of the balcony and the insertion of a false ceiling above the circle. After closing as a bingo hall, much archaeological investigation took place and it was established that enough of the original interior, including the ceiling, remains intact to enable the theatre to be restored.

Why is this theatre at risk?

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

The King’s is also included on Historic Environment Scotland’s Heritage at Risk register.

After the cinema closed in 1982, part of the building was run as a bingo hall and then a themed bar / nightclub. The retail units on the ground floor are currently in use. The nightclub that operated from the auditorium was closed but appears to have been reopened as of December 2017. The roof that was previously leaking into the billiards room on the top floor has been repaired, however, the Cowgate elevation masonry is damp in sections. The south-western façade is showing extended foliage growth, which is a significant risk to both the building and the passing public. Additionally, two second-floor windows are beginning to move inwards.

Theatre potential

If restored, the handsome King’s Theatre could become a great asset to the city of Dundee, which is in need of a large proscenium touring house. The King's Theatre Trust has been actively campaigning to purchase and restore the theatre for live performance. Its plans include the adjoining Continental Ballroom, which would provide cross-subsidising retail and bar and restaurant facilities.

The auditorium of Dundee King's Theatre converted into nightclub useCurrent situation

Over the years various community groups have campaigned to bring the King’s back into theatre use and have undertaken works ranging from a business plan for the restoration and refurbishment of the theatre in 2008, to successfully bidding for funding to carry out community engagement work in 2017. Theatres Trust has been providing fundraising and capital project advice.

The building’s site is under various different ownerships. In summer 2018 the main body of the building that includes the auditorium and stage house was bought by real-estate company Sava Estates Limited, reportedly for a sum of £240,000. The acquisition included the benefit of existing leases – the café within the foyer area and the nightclub in the main auditorium.

In December 2019 The Small Town Club (TSTC), previously at The Reading Rooms in the former St Roque’s Library in Dundee, took over operation of the main space and announced a performance programme at the King’s. The Small Town Club’s aspiration is to make the King’s a multi-purpose, multi-cultural, community-led art and performance space; revitalising the building and returning it to its former glory. The group’s ambition reaches further and includes the rejuvenation of the King’s as a catalyst for the regeneration of its local area and serving as a major visitor attraction for the City of Dundee.

Covid postponed the programme of works planned at the King’s Theatre in 2020. The Small Town Club has reopened at the King’s but programmed events in early 2022 have been further impacted by the pandemic.

Images King's Theatre, Theatres Trust, 2013