Memories of Leith Theatre wanted for new book
If you remember the Wombles, the Rollers, a baby elephant on stage in Aida or any other act on the Leith Theatre stage, then you can help a new project started in 2017 to collect memories and stories of the theatre.
Commissioned as a gift to the people of Leith from Edinburgh City Council in the 1920s, at the time of the merger with Edinburgh, the theatre is still structurally sound but currently in a state of disrepair inside. The Leith Theatre Trust is raising funds to refurbish it and recently got Irvine Welsh to be their Patron.
The Trust is working with the Citadel Arts Group to collect memories of all aspects of the theatre’s life from those who worked there, performed there or were part of the audiences. They are planning a book of the stories as well as a digital archive and a display of memories and photos.
The theatre and adjoining Thomas Morton Hall were initially known as Leith Town Hall. Together with the library next door they opened their doors on July 20, 1932 with a big concert, speeches, pomp and plenty of circumstance.
In 1941, the Ferry Road site suffered minor damage from a German parachute bomb. The theatre was eventually renovated and officially reopened by the Provost in 1961. Since then Leith Town Hall has been used for a huge variety of purposes including fund-raising events, dancing classes, boxing, cooking demos and weddings
Liz Hare from Citadel Arts Group told Æ that the theatre has been home to Gilbert & Sullivan operas and Edinburgh International shows – including Aida complete with real life baby elephant in 1986 and Ninagawa’s samurai Macbeth in 1985.
She added: “Frankie Vaughan, the Wombles, Barbara Castle, the Bay City Rollers and the Queen Mother – everyone came to Leith Town Hall/ Leith Theatre”.
The last show in the theatre was in 1990 with Theatre Workshop’s The Lightning Plebiscite, which used mime and dance by local performers to recreate the 1920s and the unpopular decision for Leith to merge with Edinburgh.
Hare added: “Citadel Arts Group would love to collect stories of any of these events from people who performed, worked back stage, or were in the audience. We’re looking for stories and photographs, theatre programmes and posters, any evidence of the contribution Leith Theatre made to the cultural life of Leith and Edinburgh.”
Citadel Arts has already held one open meeting, in the Thomas Morton Hall on 16 February, 2017. “The anecdotes started to flood in,” says Hare, “memories of a splendid Strasbourg percussion band who arranged themselves round the stage and audience; Rikki Fulton’s Scots Moliere, A Wee Touch of Class and a variety show with Joe Gordon and Sally Logan top of the bill.
“There were two wee Leith boys taking their country cousin from Galashiels to see the panto there and being amused when he shouted at the pantomime horse, ‘Oh look at the cuddie!’ and the time when the elephant escaped from the Christmas Circus and went into Leith Library, leaving its mark.”
Anyone with a story to share about the theatre can contact Liz Hare by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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