The King's is just about Panto, 'oh no it's not!'
To keep the spirit of the King’s Theatre alive while it undergoes its exciting redevelopment, this month we are exploring Edinburgh’s collective memory of ‘the people’s theatre’, and why it remains a beloved cultural space for all.
As a cherished venue for Edinburgh International Festival, the King’s has been home to a wide variety of world-class performances for generations. From cutting-edge drama, dance and musical theatre to the well-loved Scottish Panto, the King’s has always offered a unique experience that stays with audiences for years to come.
To celebrate the King’s joyous moments from those who know it best, we asked six Edinburgh reviewers to recall their experiences. Read what they had to say below:
Fergus Morgan, The Stage
“The first show I saw at the King’s Theatre was John Tiffany’s revival of Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie at the 2016 Edinburgh International Festival. It was a magical, moving production, which arrived in Edinburgh after an acclaimed run on Broadway. I didn’t live in Edinburgh at the time – I was just up from London for August – but I do now, and have been lucky enough to see many more magnificent shows at the King’s Theatre over the last few years."
Arusa Qureshi, Fest Magazine
"I grew up in the Tollcross neighbourhood and had many a school trip to the King's, particularly to see Pantos at Christmas. It was my favourite time of the year and even now, the King's building itself makes me think of home and being an excited kid with a bag of sweets, waiting for the curtain to go up. Since then, I've seen some incredible theatre, both as a punter and as a critic, and it remains one of my favourite places in Edinburgh."
Kelly Apter, The Scotsman and The List
"I've seen many wonderful, magical shows at the King's Theatre, during the Festival and across the year. One moment that made me laugh out loud, and appreciate all that the King's is doing to renovate the venue and make visiting it more enjoyable, was when Grant Stott as the perennial baddie in the King's Panto shouted "Stop booing or we'll put the old seats back in!". As I sat in my newly upholstered, comfy chair I was silently glad he didn't have the power to do that!"
Dominic Corr, Corr Blimey
“The Old Lady of Leven Street is a beacon for communities: not only in their enjoyment and access to the arts, but in the Kings long-standing support for grassroots productions throughout Edinburgh.
With such a welcoming and diverse use of theatrical space, the King’s is a truly necessary building with a link to the past, but its eyes firmly set on the future of arts accessibility in Scotland.
Places like the King’s just don’t exist as much anymore. A community for any who have even a passing interest in the arts: you never realise how much this space is a member of the family until you nearly lose it.”
Mary Brennan, The Herald
“Pantomime! Yes, there have been great dramas, thrilling dance pieces and high-end musicals - many of them truly memorable - but for me, as a reviewer, what has been heartwarmingly special at the King’s are the annual pantomimes.
That blissful mayhem is still to the fore. As is the salt’n’sauce that can mischievously spice the patter - granny giggles but her fun is not at the expense of the weans who are already caught up in booing the villain, as granny did generations before them. And this is part of why I relish and cherish King’s panto. It exists to bring local people together, give them a good night out and send them home still chuckling. Many of those folk possibly only come to theatre once a year - this makes the evening extra special.
The very building is a source of wonder to kids and adults alike: an opulent witness to the grandeur of yesteryear that survives to the present day. And to hear hundreds of happy folk relaxing and laughing, as if free of all the cares they’ve left at the door, is one of the finest, most joyous sounds anyone could wish to hear. Oh, yes it is!”
Neil Cooper, The Herald
“The King’s has presented many theatrical wonders designed to entertain, thrill and amaze. For me one of the greatest and possibly boldest shows to grace the King’s stage came in 1988, when it played host to the International Festival dates of Michael Clark’s ballet, I Am Curious, Orange. At the time, Clark was the punky wunderkind of the contemporary dance world, who had formed his own company to shake things up.
The show was a pinnacle of such attitude as it reimagined the story of William of Orange by way of an impressionistic mash-up of visual and sonic largesse that was a riot of bare bums, costumes by performance artist Leigh Bowery, lighting by Charles Atlas and video by Cerith Wyn Evans.
The musical heart of the show came by way of a live score by Mancunian post punk provocateurs, The Fall and their mercurial front man, Mark E. Smith - whichever member of King’s staff was tasked with making sure Mark turned up on time and was in the same place every night for a week deserves a plaque to be installed in the new King’s in their honour, for services above and beyond the call of duty! Long may the Grand Old Lady embrace such a radical legacy.”