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King’s Theatre, Edinburgh

King’s Theatre, Edinburgh

Website: http://www.edtheatres.com Open website in new window

Telephone: 0131 529 6000 Call 0131 529 6000

Address: 2 Leven St, Edinburgh, EH3 9LQ Show address in Google Maps (new window)

 Featured Photos


The 1906 King’s Theatre was designed by James Davidson (exterior) and J D Swanston (interior), originally as a rival to Edinburgh’s Royal Lyceum Theatre, however in 1928 merged into the UK theatre empire managed by Howard & Wyndham. The theatre is locally known as “The Grand Old Lady Of Leven Street”.

Although the building’s red sandstone exterior presents a somewhat somber appearance, the interior design is a delicate Viennese Baroque with some superb examples of Edwardian stained glass throughout the front of house areas.

The King’s currently has two balconies in the auditorium, however it was originally built with three balconies (from lowest level upward: the Dress Circle, Family Circle, and Gallery) with a total seating capacity of 2,500.

The theatre was originally equipped with film projection facilities in the form of a “Bioscope Box”, described as being built of concrete and placed behind the Grand Circle promenade. It was likely a late addition, as it does not appear on the 1905 plans for the theatre. Two Simplex projectors (bioscopes) created a picture of 18ft by 12ft over an 80ft throw. A 120-horsepower 100-amp generator supplied 80V DC to the projectors and three 30-amp Flood Arcs. The theatre was also originally fitted with a central vacuum cleaning plant, with taps to all areas of the auditorium, stage, offices, and even the grid!

In 1950-51 the Gallery, always uncomfortable but latterly also unsafe, was demolished and the Family Circle was re-raked more steeply and extended to the rear of the old Gallery, creating what is now called the Upper Circle and reducing overall seating capacity to 1,530. The Dress Circle was renamed the Grand Circle. The reduction in balconies from three to two explains the large swathes of plain plaster wall which can be seen on either side of the auditorium flanking the Upper Circle. An enclosed box for stage lights (commonly known as “auto bins”), extremely sympathetic to the theatre’s Viennese Baroque design, was added to the front of the Upper Circle (note: at a later unknown date, prior to 1973, a similar box was added to the front of the Grand Circle). The upper Billiard Room, in the front section of the building, became redundant with the removal of the Gallery; this was used as office space for some time but is now a rehearsal room. The lower Billiard Room is now the Upper Circle bar area. During the 1950-51 revamp, which included redecoration of the auditorium dome, the auditorium’s grand chandelier was taken down. It mysteriously disappeared, never to be seen again. The replacement, still in situ, is a poor reflection of its former self.

By the late 1960s variety theatre was being eclipsed by television across the United Kingdom, and in a bid to secure the venue’s future the Howard & Wyndham company came up with a deal to sell the King’s to Edinburgh City Council in 1968/9. The Council had previously taken on the Lyceum Theatre from Howard & Wyndham in 1964.

In 1985 the Council invested in the theatre by renovating and restoring soft furnishings, wood, and marblework. An orchestra pit lift was installed yielding a seldom-used extended capacity pit, and cinema-style seating replaced the traditional theatre seats reducing overall capacity to 1,336. At this time a trompe l’oeil painting, harmonious with the auditorium’s decoration and color scheme, was added to the auditorium ceiling’s dome, replacing the 1950s incarnation, which in turn had been painted over the original dome painting.

Most recently in 2012 further renovations restored the seating (Stalls and Grand Circle only) with traditional theatre-style seats, fixed antiquated ventilation systems and a leaking roof, the latter necessitating the re-painting of the auditorium dome. As the 1985 painting was not original the Festival City Theatres Trust commissioned Scottish artist John Byrne to design a completely new painting for the dome.

The safety/fire curtain dates back to at least 1930 and is likely original. Tradition sees productions record their time at the King’s on the rear of the safety curtain. Another detail not visible to the public is the original paintframe at the rear of the theatre, immediately downstage of the rear fly floor. This allowed scenic artists to paint full-size backdrops using the hand-winched paintframe without impacting theatre operations, even during performances. The paintframe is last known to have been used in the early 2000’s. Original stage machinery includes a seldom-used trapdoor mechanism (4+ operators required), and a transformation drum above the grid which was used to control multiple flown scenic elements in a coordinated fashion thus achieving a complete change of scene by operating a single mechanism.

 Movie, TV & Music Video Appearances


 How do I visit the King’s Theatre?

Tours are available roughly once per month. The full schedule is available on the theatre’s website Link opens in new window. Tours cost £10 per person (£8 for Friends) and run for around 90 minutes.

After reminding yourself of the public areas you’ll get to see Backstage and, if you’re lucky, the Understage and Dressing Room areas of the theatre normally closed-off to the public! Note: Backstage access is dependent on the visiting company's theatre operations on the day of your tour and is not guaranteed. Information correct as of March 2017.

 Further Reading



Venue Information
Flying System
Flying System Halls counterweight system comprising 58 3-line Linesets: House Curtain, Bars A-D, Bars 1-53
Grid Height (downstage) 53ft
Average Bar/Pipe Length 39ft 4in
Counterweight System Single Purchase apart from Bars/Linesets 44-53 which are Double Purchase to allow space for Dock Door to Stage below
FOH Truss Position Stage Right/Left suspension points. Auditorium Ceiling Opening to Hanging Point: 4ft 6in. Stalls to Ceiling Opening: 53ft 6in. Ceiling Opening 5in diameter. Point to Point: 19ft. Stage Right Point to Iron: 8ft 2in. Stage Left Point to Iron: 8ft 9in
Hemp Sets 4 Hemp linesets installed upstage of Bar 53
Safe Working Load per Lineset 600lbs
Variations Bars 11 and 34 only fly to a maximum height of 30ft 10in due to location of counterweight frame tie-bars. Bars 19, 20, 43 and 44 are underslung from the main roof beams which shortens the flying height by 1ft 4in
General Information
Dock Door 15ft 9in high by 7ft 6in wide
Theatre Masking Full black-box masking available
Control system ETC GIO 4,000 channel
Dimmers 252 channels Avolites Art 2000 (240 @ 2kW, 12 @ 5kW)
Followspots 2 x Robert Juliat Super Korrigan (1.2kW HMI)
Orchestra Pit
Variable Size Pit partially under forestage, mechanized lift as stage extension, removeable decking for largest pit
Stage Dimensions
Bridge from SR to SL Located between Bars D and 1, 1ft wide, 28ft 4in above stage floor
Height of Fly Floor (downstage) 23ft 5in
Height of Fly Floor (upstage) 22ft
Proscenium Arch Height 21ft 3.9in
Proscenium Arch Width 31ft 11.9in
Stage Rake 1:24
Width of Stage Left wing 13ft 7in
Width of Stage Right wing 16ft 7in

Archived files for this venue

 Photos of the King’s Theatre


Auditorium - Grand Circle

Auditorium - Stalls

Auditorium - Upper Circle



The exterior of the theatre was originally criticized as being somewhat dour and unidentifiable as a theatre, however after more than 100 years The King’s is a proven destination.

Access to the Stage is via Tarvit Street and pedestrians are often seen gawking from the pavement as they pass and see the Stage’s massive roller shutter door, usually closed, affording a glimpse into the backstage workings of the theatre.

In addition to the fine Viennese Baroque interior the front of house areas feature some superb examples of Edwardian stained glass, particularly the main lobby doors.

Fly Floor

The main Fly Floor is located Stage Right and is very wide by today’s standards, which relates to the theatre originally being a hemp house. There are fly galleries at the same level both at Stage Left and to the rear of the Stage but they are essentially just access points for spot lines and electrics, which traditionally run to Stage Left.

There is a bridge across the Stage a few steps above Fly Floor level, 28ft 4in above the Stage floor, and accessible from both Stage Left and Stage Right Fly Floors, a few feet (and 4 counterweight bars) upstage of the Proscenium Arch. The bridge is a mere 12 inches wide. It is commonly used for drops or spot effects such as falling snow.

Followspot Box

The Followspot Box dates to the 1951 building work which removed the Gallery and created the more steeply-raked Upper Circle. The followspots pictured are rented for the annual pantomime; for the remainder of the year two Robert Juliat Super Korrigan 1.2kW HMI followspots are resident in the Follospot Box.

Front of House

In addition to the fine Viennese Baroque interior the front of house areas feature some superb examples of Edwardian stained glass, particularly above the main lobby doors.

All images copyright © 2002-2018 Mike Hume/historictheatrephotos.com. For licensing and/or re-use contact me here.

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