The King’s Theatre capped a transformative year with the announcement last week that it has been awarded £2 million by the UK Government Community Ownership Fund for its building redevelopment project.
The new funding will help make the 117-year-old building fully accessible, with level entrances and an accessible journey from street to seat and street to stage, including large lifts providing access to all floors, a 50% increase in wheelchair spaces, and improved signage throughout.
Just under a year ago, the theatre’s future was looking dicey after an unsuccessful bid for UK government funding under the Levelling Up programme.
It was “the last chance saloon for the King’s” in January of this year, according to Fiona Gibson, CEO of Capital Theatres, the charity that runs the building. In spite of originally raising £26 million for the King’s Transformation Project, a funding gap of £8.9 million sprung up due to spiralling costs caused by “inflation, global conflict and changing trading agreements”.
“If the money is not found, Capital Theatres cannot proceed with the redevelopment and will have to hand the keys back to City of Edinburgh Council who own the building,” the charity announced in a news release in January 2023.
Fortunately, disaster was averted. The following month, Capital Theatres announced that Edinburgh Council had increased its investment in the King’s redevelopment project by an additional £3m and the Scottish Government had kicked in an additional £3.85m, allowing the theatre redevelopment to begin.
Many of the changes to the theatre are not expected to be glaringly obvious when the theatre reopens in time for the Edinburgh Festival 2025. The project is looking to modernise and improve the facilities, while retaining the grandiose Edwardian atmosphere of the theatre with its distinctive ornate auditorium.
Project Manager John Robb said given that much of the tech equipment dated from the 1950’s, it is extraordinary that the theatre was still able to host "such magical and memorable productions" before the redevelopment.
“It was certainly getting progressively harder to satisfy the requirements of national and international touring companies whose needs for a far less difficult load in as well as quick and simple scenic rigging systems, were beyond what the King’s Theatre could offer,” said Robb.
Following its reconstruction the new King's Theatre will have state-of-the-art back of house facilities to attract a broader variety of productions to the theatre.
The raked stage will be levelled, the orchestra pit acoustics improved, and the flytower (the space above the stage) will be raised.
The King’s will also have a new street level cafe open daily, new bars and entertaining spaces. Together with a double height Creative Engagement Studio and permanent Heritage Exhibition people will be able to visit the King’s both day and evening, allowing for greater community engagement with the theatre.
"I've seen first hand the ongoing upgrade works on what is fondly known as "the people's theatre" and heard about the exciting plans for when it reopens in 2025," said UK Government Minister for Scotland John Lamont.
"I'm delighted this funding will help ensure that this cherished venue can be enjoyed by generations to come and congratulate the team behind it in their efforts to save the King's for theatregoers, artists and the community alike. "