Unbelievable, surreal and frankly, quite interesting. Discover 10 things about the King's Theatre in Edinburgh you might not know.
1. At the top of the central staircase in the main theatre foyer, there’s a memorial stone laid in 1905 by the Scottish-American industrialist, and builder of the world class Carnegie Hall in New York City, Andrew Carnegie. Coins and newspapers from the time are stored under the stone.
2. On 27 November 1906, The Scotsman heralded the opening of the King’s Theatre with the lines: ‘This Magnificent Building will open on Saturday 8 December at 7pm with the gorgeous pantomime Cinderella.'
3. On 12 July 1909, the King’s had a narrow escape from a major fire caused by a dropped match left smouldering overnight. The alarm was raised in the early hours of the morning by a passer-by and thanks to the nearby location of the Edinburgh Fire Brigade at Lauriston Place, disaster was averted.
4. Portobello-born Harry Lauder was a regular performer on the King’s stage in the 1920s, at the height of his fame. One of the highest paid performers in the world, Lauder was knighted in 1919 for his tireless work organising entertainment for the troops in the First World War, and best loved for his self-penned songs ‘I Love a Lassie’ and ‘Roamin’ in the Gloamin’. A plaque, presented by the British Music Hall Society in the foyer of the King’s, commemorates Lauder’s long association with the theatre.
5. 18 August 1930, when Noël Coward’s Private Lives received its world premiere on the King’s stage, the play starred not only Coward himself, but also Sir Laurence Olivier alongside the actresses Adrianne Allen and Gertrude Lawrence.
6. Sir Sean Connery used to work backstage at the King's Theatre. In 1951 Sean (then known as Tam) worked as a stage hand and this is where his interest in the acting profession began. He auditioned for a production of South Pacific and, now calling himself Sean, landed a small part - and the rest is history.
7. Of the great women who have worked at the King’s Theatre through the years, we love the legend of Mrs Bertha Cassie. Mrs Cassie started as a cleaner in 1917. At the end of six months, Mr Naylor, the chief electrician, told her he was going to promote her to the ‘perch’, the little balcony in the wings from which the spotlight was then operated. Her first week coincided with the appearance of the famous ballet dancer Anna Pavlova. Bertha was reported by The People’s Journal as being ‘the only woman switchboard operator in Edinburgh’ twenty years later in October 1937 when she was still operating the lights at the King’s.
8. Maria Callas gave her only UK performance outside of London at the King’s Theatre in August 1957 in a production of Bellini’s La sonnambula at the Edinburgh International Festival. Callas sang for four performances – famously refusing to sing a fifth that had been agreed by the Scala management without her knowledge. The Scala and the EIF let it be known that she was ill and could not sing however scandal ensued when Callas was photographed at a party in Venice on the very night when she was supposed to have been performing in Edinburgh.
9. A burn runs underneath the King’s Theatre. Known as the Lochrin (after which buildings in Tollcross are named), the stream once fed the brewery that existed on the site where the theatre now stands.
10. The King’s traditionally closed during the summer season. In 1935, then theatre director Stewart Cruikshank decided to introduce a variety revue during the summer, and the ‘Half Past Eight Show’, already doing great business in Glasgow, was launched in Edinburgh. The variety shows, rebranded in 1955 as the ‘Five past Eight’ shows, continued well into the late 1960s with headline acts like Ricky Fulton, Jack Milroy, Stanley Baxter and Jimmy Logan. Proving the enduring appeal of the show format, Allan Stewart is back flying the flag for variety at the King’s.