Edinburgh abounds with tales of ghostly goings on, with the tours of the narrow closes of the Old Town and the abandoned underground streets beneath the Royal Mile doing a roaring trade year in, year out. You may have heard of Annie, the ghostly pre-teen who haunts Mary King’s Close, the George McKenzie poltergeist in Greyfriars Kirk or the headless drummer at Edinburgh Castle, but did you know the Festival Theatre is considered one of the most haunted theatres in Scotland?
Over the years, staff have reported numerous paranormal happenings around the theatre, from cold spots that appear and disappear in seconds, heavy doors that slump open in empty auditoriums or ghosts walking in the basement. Here’s three of our favourite chilling ghost stories from the Festival Theatre.
The Great Lafayette
The Great Lafayette, born as Sigmund Neuberger, was one of the most celebrated illusionists of the early 20th century. Both on and off stage, he was extravagant and lavish and his mystifying illusions and elaborate quick-changes made him the highest paid entertainer in the theatre of the time.
In the spring of 1911, he visited the Festival Theatre – then known as the Empire Palace Theatre - to perform his most ambitious production to date. After he performed his finale, ‘The Lion’s Bride’, in which he swaps places with a live lion on stage, a lamp fell on the heavily carpeted set, quickly setting the stage on fire. A total of 11 people perished in the blaze, including The Great Lafayette himself, who was later found under a trap door in the basement beneath the stage.
It is believed that the great illusionist haunts the Festival Theatre to this day, shining his diamond rings in the dark. It has also been reported that a piercing lion’s roar has engulfed our empty auditorium on occasion…
The peg leg sailor
Long before walkie-talkies and headsets, off-duty sailors were hired to run the fly loft because of their expertise with knots and raising and lowering sails.
The narrow, high platforms, usually dimly lit during the performance, can be daunting places in theatres. High up above the stage of the Festival Theatre, on the narrow walkways of the fly floor, there have been sightings of a small, limping figure seen pacing up and down and the sounds of the scraping of a wooden leg have been clearly heard coming from an empty fly floor…
The girl in the yellow dress
From technical staff controlling the lights from the follow-spot box to cleaning or visitor services staff working in the upper echelons of the auditorium, staff can usually be found in the Upper Circle.
It is thought that a playful little girl likes to play games in between the seats in the Upper Circle when no customers are sitting there. Dressed in a bright yellow dress, she likes to gently play with people’s hair or softly blow air on the back of the neck….
Who knows who or what might be lurking around the corner next time you visit the Festival Theatre...