Bring Leith Theatre back to life


Posted by in September's Magazine

Leith voted 6 to 1 in favour of independence – in 1920 that is, independence from Edinburgh. That was duly ignored and Leith was forced into union with Edinburgh but part of the Equivalent we were paid was the building of Leith Theatre which opened in 1932; a ‘gift from the people of Edinburgh to the people of Leith’. Nine years later a Luftwaffe plane, rather than a theatre critic, bombed the theatre and it was closed for two decades until the Edinburgh International Festival took it on, in 1988 it closed again and has lain empty ever since.

Until now!  In recent times Leithers have started reclaiming their theatre and building for the future. Leith Theatre Trust, formed in 2004 when the council was threatening to sell the theatre off for flats, took over the running of the place last year and is looking at making it a place that Leith can use for a whole range of events.

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Earlier this year it played host to the Hidden Door Festival, highlighting to anyone who wandered in that there was something magical and fantastic in the place. Its potential was beginning to show a little, it was starting to indicate that it could shine.

Roll forwards a couple of months and Kevin Williamson and Michael Pedersen of Neu! Reekie! roped Irvine Welsh, Ewen Bremner, Arthur Baker and the Fire Engines into a fundraiser for the Trust.  It was the 21st anniversary of Trainspotting, a nod to the past and a welcome to the future and it suggested Leith has more yet to come. A thousand tickets went in just two days without a poster, a flyer or a puff piece in the local paper.

So far, so fabulous, the dedicated team at the Leith Theatre Trust have shown imagination and stamina; they’ve kept going when it would have been easier to give up and they’re starting to build respect and admiration for the dream they have. They’re volunteers with an idea, campaigners with a plan, Leithers on a mission – and they’re making it happen.  The building is coming back into use but probably more importantly, people are starting to talk about it and wondering how it’s getting on.

It’s a start, a few small first steps, just the first wee trundle to get it jump-started. Like the car you had when you were young, projects like this take a bit of a shove to get them started and sometimes they need two or three shoves. The important thing is to have helpers, other people to help you shove, extra muscle power behind you – and the guy in the driving seat to know when to let the clutch out and to steer it downhill.

The Trust has driven itself forward, it’s had some help with the heavy shoving and it’s managed to gather in a few pennies here and there (running the Thomas Morton Hall helps, I would imagine) and it’s getting work done on the theatre. It needs more, though. It needs Leith to claim the theatre as its own. It needs us to want to have a working theatre back in Leith. It also needs a few more Leithers to be willing to get our hands in about the work now and then.

It needs more volunteers to add to the workforce that’s pulling the thing together. Two years ago when I had a look around the place was derelict, falling to bits, neglected. Now it’s picking up, you can see the improvements that have been made by the existing volunteers but they need more, much more.

If you have any specialist skills they’ll be welcomed; if you understand how to help bring a historic building back to life you’ll be a godsend but if you know how to paint a wall, do a bit of joinery or plumbing you’ll be just as welcome. If you’re willing to get your mitts a bit dirty cleaning things or help with the gardening there’s a group waiting for you to join them.

We need to do more, too, we need to make the theatre part of the life of Leith again, so we need more events. Have your wedding celebration in the Thomas Morton Hall, the stunning Crush Foyer or the upstairs rooms, have a party there, have community events, classes and performances there. Use the spaces. Or donate a few pennies to help out.

Find a bit of time to have a look at the website – leiththeatretrust.org – and see what they’re up to. There can’t be many places in Scotland that have a place like this sitting waiting to be rejuvenated and there can’t be many better things to do with your spare time than helping it wake up.

Leith your theatre is calling you.  Will you answer?

Twitter: @DeidreBrock

www.leiththeatretrust.org

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