The King’s Theatre Edinburgh in Leven Street hosts back stage tours of this wonderful theatre every month (their sister The Festival Theatre does the same), and if you ever wondered what goes on behind the stage at a working theatre then this tour (you have to pre-book) is for you.
This tour takes you to all levels of the theatre’s public space – from up in the gods in the upper circle to down into the stalls. You also get the chance to go behind the scenes and see just how much space is required in a theatre to put on the production that you see on stage. Depending on the company behind any production performing at the theatre you might also get the chance to stand on stage and look out at where you normally sit. Today we all got that chance as the company behind the current production “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” were happy for us all to be on stage, but with strict instructions that no photographs were taken of their set.
We also got the chance to go underneath the stage and see for ourselves the original Edwardian machinery that still works and raises or lowers the orchestra pit. Unfortunately, we are no longer able to see the stream that still runs underneath this theatre. The stream is here because the theatre was built on the site of a distillery, and paintings and photographs still exist of this distillery and the shops that once made up this space.
Even if you have no interest in theatre, this building itself is worth going onto the tour to see as it still retains its classic art nouveau interior, and as you walk round this wonderful building you are given a brief introduction to its history.
The King’s Theatre took only a year to build and was opened in 1906. Underneath the foundation stone laid by Andrew Carnegie there is a time capsule from this date that has yet never been opened. After an early change of ownership the theatre was owned for many years by members of The Cruikshank family until it was taken over in the 1950s by the old Edinburgh Corporation until it became part of “Festival Theatres Trust” along with the Festival Theatre. During the 1950s the building underwent major interior re-construction and the current seating for just over 1,300 is nearly half of its original capacity.
This classic building was designed by James Davidson of Coatbridge with interior design by Kirkcaldy architect J D Swanson. Unfortunately many records of the building were not kept at the time, but it is possible that the wonderful stained glass panels of the doors and bar on the first floor were by Stephen Adam of Glasgow. Taking modern centre piece now though is the wonderful art on the theatres interior dome designed and painted by artist and playwright John Byrne (and a small team) in 2013.
The King’s Theatre has been a much loved part of Edinburgh life for over 100 years and not for nothing is still affectionately called by some people “The Grand Old Lady of Leven Street”.
Backstage tours normally take place on the first Saturday of each month, at 10.30am, and cost £7.50 including tea/coffee and biscuits at the end of the tour. Bespoke tours for groups of up to 25 people can also be arranged.
Article by Tom King