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Leithers One Family: The Play

Claire Smith tells us about an ambitious project coming your way in June…


The history of Leith is about to be writ large at one of the old port’s most historic buildings when Citadel Arts Group bring Leithers Live to environs in and around the Custom House during Leith Festival.

The performances, will allow a rare behind the scenes look at the Georgian Custom House - which is currently awaiting redevelopment (see Gordon Munro’s article in this issue).

Liz Hare, artistic director of Citadel Arts Group and director of Leithers Live said: “We are very excited about this. It is the first time we have performed a site specific work. It will be wonderful to see the play come to life inside the Custom House and outside on the Shore - which is where some of the scenes in the play take place.”

The new work is based on the novel Leithers One Family, by William Haddow, which traces the history of the port from mediaeval times to the present day.

It has been adapted by ten different writers from the Citadel Arts Group, with each episode taking place at a different time in history.

The first play is set in 1398 - when the burgesses of Edinburgh effectively took over the profits of trade from the Port of Leith - beginning centuries of resentment between Leith and Edinburgh - and ultimately depriving the port of its rightful wealth.

Author William Haddow said: “If you look at the geography Leith really should be the capital of Scotland. But Edinburgh realised it had to have access to the sea and so they bought the Shore. It created something like apartheid between Leith and Edinburgh. It’s quite a story.

“The history of Leith is amazing - when you look at what’s involved. There’s no town with the same length and depth of incredible history like it in the whole of the UK.”

Leithers Live covers the whole range of life in the port, with characters including bankers, smugglers, fishwives and pickpockets - right up to the modern day invasion of hipsters and gourmet coffee shops.

Mark Kydd, who plays the mischievous time travelling narrator Tam, said: “It is a different kind of thing doing a promenade performance and it will be fun to perform so close to where some of these events really happened,

“I think a lot of people will want to have a look inside the building. That’s one of the great things about Citadel Arts Group - they are good at taking these stories and bringing them into the heart of the community.

‘There are some beautiful spaces and some beautiful rooms inside the Custom House and we will be performing in quite a few of them - from the grand staircase to the library and then outside at the edge of the Shore.”

The cast, who will be taking multiple roles are: Deborah Whyte, Mairi Jayne Weir, Stephanie Falls and Gregor Davidson. Live music will be provided by Laure Paterson on fiddle and James Bryce on piano.

Lizzie MacLean, who is one of the playwrights involved said working on the play had been a joy. “I joined the Citadel writing group during lockdown and it has been a great experience. I’ve learned such a lot - both from the other writers and from the actors.”

Leithers One Family was originally adapted into a podcast during lockdown before being readapted for live performance.

Una Richards, CEO of Scottish Historic Buildings Trust said it was a great opportunity to use the building in a creative way and for people to see inside the building, which is normally closed to the public.

“As part of our commitment to the community of Leith, we are delighted to welcome Citadel Arts to the Custom House to perform Leithers Live.

“After such a long time in lockdown, it is wonderful that the Custom House is being brought back to life with such an enthusiastic progressive performance.”

Scottish Historic Buildings Trust is currently holding consultations on the future of Custom House, which was bought by Edinburgh City Council in 2015, after 30 years as a storeroom for the Museum of Scotland. ■

Info: Leithers Live: The Custom House Play, June 17/18 at 2pm/7pm

Performers from Leithers One Family at Leith Custom House

There’s no town with the same length and depth of incredible history in the UK



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