Blow for Edinburgh music scene as Leith Theatre is mothballed for a year

One of Edinburgh's most historic music venues is to stay closed for at least 12 months due to the coronavirus pandemic - 80 years after it was almost destroyed in a bomb blast.

Monday, 29th June 2020, 3:28 pm
Updated Monday, 29th June 2020, 5:18 pm
Leith Theatre was brought back to life for festival events in 2018 after a 30-year hiatus. Picture: David Wilkinson
Leith Theatre was brought back to life for festival events in 2018 after a 30-year hiatus. Picture: David Wilkinson

Leith Theatre, which is regarded as one of Britain's most "at risk" venues due to its poor condition, has undergone a recent revival which has seen it compared to Glasgow's iconic Barrowland Ballroom, but will now be mothballed until at least the spring of 2021.

At least 11 of the 14 staff taken on to work at the theatre since its reopening two years ago are said to be at risk of redundancy due to the prolonged closure period.

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The venue, which was gifted to the area after a controversial merger with Edinburgh a century ago, staged gigs by AC/DC, Thin Lizzy, Dr Feelgood, Moot the Hoople, John Martyn, Slade and Kraftwerk in its heyday before falling into serious disrepair in the 1980s.

It was reborn as a festival venue in 2018 after a 30-year hiatus and has since hosted shows by the likes of King Creosote, Jesus and Mary Chain, Mogwai, Alan Cumming, Neneh Cherry and Young Fathers.

However the trust leading efforts to restore the venue to its former glory, has decided it is too financially risky to attempt to reopen the building while social distancing measures are in place, warning that it could even "sound the death knell" for the building.

The Leith Theatre Trust, which closed the building to all events in March, said the uncertainty over the staging of future events meant it would have to remain closed until the spring of 2021.

Work on Leith Theatre began in 1929 – nine years after the historic port was officially amalgamated into Edinburgh. It opened to huge acclaim in 1932 but the main auditorium suffered serious damage in a bomb last in 1941 when Leith came under attack during the Second World War.

The venue remained dormant until it was brought back to life in 1961, attracting the Edinburgh International Festival every year to stage theatre productions, as well as regular pop and rock gigs throughout the year.

Author Irvine Welsh, film director Danny Boyle, singers Sir Rod Stewart Shirley Manson, and actor Ewen Bremner are all official ambassadors of the venue.

Leith Theatre was also expected to play host to shows at this year's Edinburgh International Festival, before the plug was pulled on the 2020 programme in early April due to the Covid-19 crisis. The building has since been home to both a food bank and a blood bank.

A spokeswoman for the Leith Theatre Trust said: "In a building already suffering the effects of years of neglect, and after weeks of scenario planning and calculating financial risk, it must, like so many other theatres and venues across the country, stay shut to remain a viable business in the longer term.

Jarvis Cocker played a sell-out show at Leith Theatre at last year's Edinburgh International Festival. Picture: Gaelle Beri

"The colder months of the year are much more challenging in this still-establishing business, with a quieter programme and with some parts of the theatre still without heating.

"The spring and summer programmes have been lost, and the current landscape is all so uncertain.

"With so many unknowns, to risk re-opening to what would be reduced and socially distant audiences, is a risk simply too high to take and one that could potentially sound the death knell for this unique venue which sits proudly in the heart of Leith.

"It is a decision that has not been taken lightly, but one which recognises that temporary closure is necessary to protect the building and business for the future."

Lynn Morrison, exec director of the theatre trust said: “The sector is facing incredible challenges and for our small dedicated staff team who have worked tirelessly to bring this venue to back to its feet, it is the hardest thing to see the building closed and the Leith family unable to return.

“We have to use this opportunity to build a stronger platform for the venue’s future. We are a theatre at risk and a business start-up, and we have major refurbishment and construction needs.

"Our committed funding and government Covid-19 support has granted us this time to review our future business development.

"We hope we can also explore future fundraising possibilities and consider if further building regeneration works are possible."

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