Illustrious past, uncertain future: The bid to save Kirkcaldy's Kings Theatre

It’s the building time forgot - one with an illustrious past but a deeply uncertain future.

Monday, 19th April 2021, 3:53 pm
Updated Monday, 19th April 2021, 4:01 pm

An entire generation has grown up unaware the ABC Cinema ever existed on Kirkcaldy’s High Street.

But, if a small but dedicated team of trustees and volunteers have their way, it will be brought back to life.

The cinema was Scotland’s original Kings Theatre - opened in 1904, it pre-dates its better known namesake in Edinburgh by two years.

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Inside Kirkcaldy's old ABC Cinema- the foyer remains instantly recognisable but the wall between Cinema 2 and 3 has been knock down. The confectionery kiosk remains, and the art deco windows has endured next to the staircase in the foyer.

Converted into a cinema in 1937 it was the Rialto and the MGM before becoming the ABC, but it has been boarded up and left to decay since closing in 2000.

The magnitude of the task facing Kings Theatre Kirkcaldy Limited cannot be under-estimated - but the group has already done more in the past five years than anyone to assess the damage and begin vital repairs to protect what remains.

The cinema forms the largest part of a sprawling site which takes in the YWCA on the Esplanade, and, nestled in between, an old ballroom.

Over the past five years the trustees and a small band of dedicated volunteers have turned the YW into the vibrant Kings Live Lounge which was just getting into its stride when the pandemic forced its closure. It had made a huge impression as a great live venue as well as a community hub thanks to the commitment of the team behind it.

Inside the former ABC Cinema in Kirkcaldy, which closed in 2000 and has suffered significant decay. This is how the old Cinema 1 looks like today (Pic: Fife Free Press)

It has also set about tackling the interior of the former theatre and removing skips of rubbish dumped in the old ballroom.

In recent weeks, contractors have been on site putting a temporary covering on the roof to address the damage sustained in last autumn’s storms, and eradicate the pigeons which have infested the building for over 20 years.

The rubble piled high in the ballroom has been removed - along with the asbestos - and the back of the Kings sits in the shadow of scaffolding reaching to the very top of the cinema.

The former confectionery kiosk at the ABC Cinema in Kirkcaldy which closed in 2000 and is now under the control of Kirkcaldy Kings Theatre Trust (Pic: Fife Free Press)

Now, architects have been engaged to take a look at the whole complex.

This week, the trust unveiled plans to make use of the plaza created on the YW’s doorstep as part of the waterfront re-development.A place once little more than a service road can now become an alfresco meeting place for gourmet food, and live performances.

All of that has been done thanks to successful funding applications, and the trustees continue to explore all avenues to secure more much needed financial support to protect the building which is one of three Scottish theatres on the ‘at risk’ register.

Looking down the stairs to the foyer of the former ABC Cinema in Kirkcaldy - the decline is evident after the building closed in 2000. It is now under the control of Kirkcaldy Kings Theatre Trust (Pic: Fife Free Press)

The trustees have secured support from Historic Environment Scotland as well as Creative Scotland’s Music Venues Trust,, Fife Council’s town centre improvement grant, and the Weir Foundation - and continue to pursue all avenues for additional support.

John Murray, who chairs the trust, said: “Our vision is of a flexible event space - one that could host everything from theatre and music to graduations.

“That vision has changed since we first set out, and the architects, who will be on site next week, will be able to look at the entire space and advise on what is feasible.”“We won’t decide anything until we get advice from the experts.”

The essential work gives the trustees some vital breathing space to see how they can integrate the three buildings - and how the plans stack up financially.

Stepping inside the locked doors underlines the scale of the challenge ahead.

The decay is evident from the foyer to the three auditoriums - you spot dead pigeons and a rat as you head downstairs - but some of its cinema’s familiar sights remain.

The paybox is instantly recognisable, while downstairs, the shutters remain pulled down at the sweet kiosk, and the signage on the red walls is still intact.

A stained glass window on the staircase leading up to the main cinema is in need of some TLC, while some of the art deco features continue to survive despite the ravages of time.

In the projection room, a set of specs sit in a cabinet - presumably left behind after the final screening - while the mechanical apparatus is a throwback to a pre-digital age, and the giant air conditioning system is as giant as a 747 engine.

The wall between cinemas two and three is now rubble, while the main auditorium has been reduced to a darkened shell; shards of light piercing through the holes in the wooden beams, the silence disturbed by a pigeon flying across where the giant screen used to be.

The office of the late manager, Douglas Adams, is out of bounds at the top of the stairs, but, along the corridor, the old ‘Q here for Cinema 2’ cinema still sits waiting to be used once more.

In Redburn Wynd, ghost signs above the brick doorways still point patrons to the circle, and on to the smaller cinema created when the building was last converted - but a generation of locals have now grown up with no movie house in town.

The aim is to ensure the next generation does not miss out.

The buzz which surrounded the Kings Live Lounge will return as soon as restrictions are lifted - it is already looking ahead to the doors re-opening as soon as it is safe to operate once more - but it is the former theatre which remains the trust’s biggest challenge.

Their next steps will be shaped by the architects’ report on on the complex as a whole - and how to get the most out of a site which has been forgotten by the town for too long.

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