Edinburgh’s Festival and King’s Theatres Through Time is the latest in a series of local history books by Jack Gillon, published by Amberley Publishing.
This well written and enjoyable book gives a fascinating insight into the history of the King’s Theatre from its opening in 1906, and the Festival Theatre through the various theatres on its site since the early 1800s, along with stories of some of the people connected with both theatres over the years.
Although both theatres are now part of the “Festival City Theatres Trust” and under the same management, they both have completely individual histories as separate theatres and this book is an informative, without getting too detailed, history of both venues.
The King’s Theatre took only a year to build and was opened in 1906. After an early change of ownership the theatre was for many years owned by one family - The Cruikshanks - and it remained so until taken over by the old Edinburgh Corporation. Over the years, this building has seen many changes to its interior and seating capacity, and archive documents help to show some of these changes. At heart though, the theatre still retains its classic art nouveau looks – including those wonderful stained glass panels.
Unlike the King’s Theatre though, The Festival Theatre has seen many name changes in its long history, and is the oldest continuous theatre site in Edinburgh. Earlier theatres on this site include – The Alhambra Music Hall, The Queen’s Theatre and of course the Empire Theatre.
Both theatres have played host to many famous names over the years and the book revisits some of those earlier years with photos and playbills from the Festival City Theatres Trust’s archives, along with contemporary photos of the interiors and exteriors of both theatres. Probably most famous amongst all of the performers though is the magician Lafayette who died in a fire when his stage act went wrong while performing at the old Empire Palace in 1911.
This book will obviously be of particular interest to Edinburgh theatre-goers, but has plenty in it also for those who are simply interested in local history.
Review by Lisa Sibbald