Festival Theatre

(Empire Palace Theatre)

Festival Theatre
©2022 Gazetteer for Scotland

Festival Theatre

Located on Nicholson Street in central Edinburgh, close to the University and opposite the Royal College of Surgeons, the Festival Theatre startles the passer-by with its glass facade, intended to reflect the surrounding buildings and allow patrons of the theatre and the chic ground-floor cafe to survey the street.

The site has been continuously occupied by theatre premises since 1830. It was previously the Empire Palace Theatre, opened in 1892, but in 1911 a fire on stage killed eight people including the illusionist Lafayette. The theatre was quickly re-opened. Rebuilt and enlarged in 1928 as the Empire Theatre, to the design of W. and T.R. Millburn, it was a popular and successful venue for music hall and variety and the main venue of the Edinburgh Festival (1946 - 63) but changing times brought conversion to a bingo-hall in the mid 1960s with only occasional rock concerts breaking the mould.

However, its owners the City Council undertook a major conversion to create a focus for performing arts in the city. Under the guidance of architects Law & Dunbar Nasmith, the original frontage was replaced and the largest stage in Britain was grafted onto the rear, but the original auditorium, with its transposition of Neo-Classical and Art Nouveau styles, was preserved. The new Festival Theatre opened in 1994.

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