Theatre group breathing new life into Kirkcaldy’s abandoned cinema

A major refurbishment project to turn the former ABC Cinema on Kirkcaldy High Street into a theatre is well under way.

The building will be known by the name it had when it first opened in 1904 – the Kings Theatre – and plans are to have it open in four years time.

A look behind the scenes at The Kings Theatre in Kirkcaldy (All pics by Fife Photo Agency)

A look behind the scenes at The Kings Theatre in Kirkcaldy (All pics by Fife Photo Agency)

Grant Foster, director and CEO of Kings Theatre Kirkcaldy Ltd, said he was glad work had finally begun.

“I’m relieved that work is under way and thankful to John Simm who unexpectedly loaned us the cash to buy the building which allowed us to start this,” he said.

“I’m hugely grateful that he came along at the right time.”

The group’s immediate focus is to repair the roof, part of which has collapsed.

The majority of the damage to the roof had occurred over the last two years during the milder winters.

After a slight delay in putting up scaffolding, most of the rotting timbers have been removed and the rest of the work needed to replace the roof is expected to be completed by Christmas.

“This work is all we’re concentrating on at the moment,” Grant said.

“We’re not thinking about Lottery funding or anything like that yet – that will come – but our immediate focus is on making this building as wind and watertight as it can be.”

Grant said that first taking ownership of the building was a huge challenge due to extent that it had fallen into disrepair.

“At first I didn’t know where to start but it’s been a team effort with the group of volunteers just clearing it bit by bit.

“It’s actually been a lot of fun.

“We’ve found a lot of interesting things, most of them by accident.

“Before we took ownership of the building we were having a look round with a group of people.

“We were walking up the stairs and I leant on the wall. It fell away and there was this amazing stained glass window! We’re now planning to keep that.

“I also took a sledgehammer to what I thought was a wall of plaster but it was actually a pair of original doors that were covered in 1937. I’ve promised that the damage I caused can be repaired!”

Grant believes the building’s original features are what makes it so unique.

“I think that will be a huge selling point,” he said.

“It’s very art nouveau in the foyer area but art deco in the main theatre so we’re going to continue that art deco theme.

“The ground floor is going to become the box office obviously and one of the ideas we have is to have two bars in that area.

“The way they’re going to be stylised is very steampunk, the idea being we can hire them out to people who enjoy that sort of look and we’ll have the design team work on them later next year.”

He added: “I’m trying to turn this into something that will be great for the town and hopefully will help regenerate the town centre.”

As well as the old cinema building Grant has also bought the former YWCA building on the Esplanade and has plans to connect both buildings.

“We’re going to try and phase the project if possible,” he said. “We hope to have the former YWCA building open first of all as it’s not in as bad condition as the theatre. That will contain a function hall, lounge bar and bar restaurant.”

The project will involve an ongoing process of fundraising. “Next year we will start seriously applying for the funding and going through all the various processes,” Grant said.

“We need to prove on paper with empirical data that it will work. We know it will but we need to show it with reports and graphs and all those sorts of things.

“We know that there are challenges in the High Street, we’re not burying our heads in the sand to that fact. But we want to work together with all the businesses, from the night time economy through to the coffee shops, to the hotels.

“But we definitely 100 per cent need the council behind us as well. Without that we’re not going to go any further.

“This is a difficult task but we think working together is definitely the key.”

September 2020 is the proposed date for the theatre’s grand opening which will bring something unique to Kirkcaldy.

Grant says: “Most of our backgrounds are in entertainment and events management we want to bring big and different entertainment aspects to Kirkcaldy. Anything and everything that people don’t usually see here.

“I’d like to bring back a bit of jazz and funk to the town for example. I’d love to do that sort of thing.”

Gavin Hugh is a volunteer on the project who says that feedback from the public has been hugely positive.

“Everyone you speak to is on board with this. We have people popping their head in the door everyday asking what’s going on, so we have a number of different ideas for fundraising events next year.”

Volunteer Stephen Barbour hopes to open a pop-up shop in the corner of the building soon to keep people informed about the Kings Theatre project.

He said: “Members of the public can drop in and take a look at our concept brochure so they can see what’s happening.

“We’ll also have items of interest that we’ve brought out of the building, some of which we will put on display when the theatre finally opens.

“But some of them we will be happy to sell on to people who are interested as a way of raising funds. A lot of people have been asking about the old letters that were used for signs. They’re not really a huge part of the history of the building as such, but they are to locals, so that’s something to look at.

“Hopefully it’ll be open in the next couple of weeks for the 112th birthday of the building which is on November 14.”

For more information and to keep up to date with all the latest developments visit the ‘Kings Theatre Kirkcaldy’ Facebook page.

The original stained glass window from 1904 which was uncovered during the refurbishment

The original stained glass window from 1904 which was uncovered during the refurbishment