Leith Theatre

Empty since 1988, and previously threatened by residential development, the Leith Theatre complex is currently being restored and reopened to provide spaces for a variety of performances, events and classes.

Entrance to Leith Theatre.
Address
Ferry Road, Leith, Edinburgh, EH6 4AE
Risk Rating
6 (Community Value: 3, Star Rating: 2, Risk Factor: 1 )
Local Authority
Edinburgh City Council
Architect
Bradshaw, Gass & Hope
Date of Construction
1932
Listing
Category B
Capacity
1,500

Significance

Leith Theatre opened in 1932, built for the people of Leith 'as a gift from the people of Edinburgh', following the Burgh of Leith’s incorporation into Edinburgh. The building is part of a complex that includes Leith Library, the Registrar's Office and the Thomas Morton Hall. It is owned by Edinburgh City Council. It has a classical façade and a sumptuous Art Deco circular entrance and box office, which leads to the main auditorium. This is a flat floored hall with U-shaped balcony and proscenium stage, classically detailed with a barrel vaulted ceiling and glazed roof lights.

Why is this theatre at risk?

Leith Theatre has been on the Theatres at Risk Register since 2016.

Leith Theatre closed in 1983 however continued to host the Edinburgh International Festival every August until 1988 after which time the building was left empty. In 2004 Edinburgh City Council approved the sale of the theatre for residential development – a move that was stopped by concerned locals, and from which Leith Theatre Trust was established. The council has since granted Leith Theatre Trust a five-year lease on the building with an agreement in principle for a further 30 years. The theatre is thought to be structurally sound but there is surface deterioration due to weathering.

Although the theatre has been open for pop-up events, there is still much work to be done to enable the building to open, programme and operate on a permanent basis, including essential fabric repairs and reinstallation of heating to the main public spaces that will allow the theatre to operate through the winter months. In the meantime, theatre operation is in business start-up and remains fragile.

Darkened auditorium of Leith Theatre from the back of the single balcony overlooking the flat-floored stalls and to the stageTheatre potential

Leith Theatre Trust was granted a five-year lease on the building in February 2016. In May 2017, the building opened its doors for the Hidden Door Festival, a temporary event but the first performance in the main theatre for almost 30 years. The event was hugely successful and was attended by nearly 13,000 people. It proved a major turning point in the theatre’s fortunes, showcasing the potential of the venue and demonstrating its viability. The theatre has gone on to host further pop-up events in the main auditorium including the Edinburgh International Festival, Pianodrome, EH6 festival and the return of the Hidden Door Festival, plus a full-scale theatre production – the theatre’s first in more than 20 years.

The theatre has also been open for a variety of community activities, including weddings and parties, classes, workshops and small music events.

Current situation

Although the theatre has been open for pop-up events, there is still much work to be done and Leith Theatre Trust continues to fundraise for a major capital works project to enable the building to open on a permanent basis. Grant funding from the Architectural Heritage Fund allowed an updated feasibility study for the building to be produced and with National Heritage Lottery Funding a new Executive Director was appointed to build capacity and bring sustainability to the business. Edinburgh City Council has pledged £1m in funding for the theatre, to be drawn down in stages, and in summer 2019 the first phase of work brought electrical improvements through a new substation and power to the main stage. Further extensive building fabric repairs, heating and toilets are all critical to being able to obtain a permanent license for the venue in future and the funding for these works is yet to be secured.

In May 2020 Leith Theatre Trust was awarded a Theatres Trust Theatres at Risk Capacity Building Programme grant of £11,000 to support mentoring and skills training, and a package of consultancy work covering finance, marketing / fundraising, audience development and community membership, and stakeholder engagement.

Leith Theatre closed its doors in mid-March 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. Though unable to host live performances, the theatre continued to play a vital role engaging with and supporting its local community as a foodbank, collecting material for masks and most recently going into partnership with Empty Kitchens, Full Hearts CIC, allowing the charity to use the kitchens and the Thomas Morton Hall to feed those in need. Leith Theatre has announced it will remain otherwise closed until later in 2021 and in line with Covid consideration. 

In 2020 the theatre was also home to the virtual edition of Scotland’s annual Wide Days music convention, EIF’s My Light Shines On recordings featuring Honeyblood and Breabach, and Posable Action Figures’ latest music video for a single in their debut album.

In September 2020, Leith Theatre was awarded £138,214 from the Scottish Government’s Performing Arts Venue Relief Fund to help it recover from Covid-19. This grant enabled them to produce a mini-series of digital gigs, Live In Leith, that streamed across March and April.  

During the period of closure, the theatre has been crowdfunding for heating solutions for the main auditorium with its Big Radiator Generator campaign. Funds raised will help with damp issues, protect its 1930's plasterwork and make the main space much warmer.   

Video (from 2020)

https://youtu.be/W9SEX_M_pMM

Main photo Leith Theatre, Theatres Trust.