Bringing a Kirkcaldy theatre back to life

The new venue at the YWCA
The new venue at the YWCA

Imagine a 2000-seat theatre bringing the biggest names in music to play live in the heart of our town centre.

If any single project has the ability to transform the High Street, then it is the Kings Theatre.

Inside the abandoned theatre

Inside the abandoned theatre

Grant Foster’s vision of turning the abandoned old ABC Cinema into the biggest live venue in the Kingdom may be a long-term project – but it is one that is moving steadily in the right direction.

As CEO of the project, he and his team of volunteers have done more over the past two years than anyone to bring this building back to life.

Its doors had been closed for 18 years, the inside of the building left to wither.

Together with the YWCA building, which sits behind it on the Esplanade, it stood as a landmark the town had all but forgotten.

Fast forward to 2018, and the buildings have been gutted and made wind and watertight, and the YW is almost ready to roll as a fantastic new live venue.

The venue has a bar and lounge, and could host everything from weddings to live music to comedy nights, as well as becoming a community hub by day – the very sort of project the town centre needs if it embraces a future which won’t be solely built around retail.

There were hopes of a September launch for the YW, but things have gone quiet and it’s fair to say there is some frustration as red tape starts to wrap itself around the project and slow its momentum.

The desire to get the doors open remain strong – step one towards fulfilling Grant’s dream of bringing the Kings back into full usage.

The YW could be up and running come the end of the year if it can sort out some planning matters which have meant plans to bring some big names in comedy to town had to be put on hold.

The delays boil down to a 4142 report – a technical document which analyses sound levels and ensures local residents won’t be up bothered by gigs taking place next door.

Grant said: “Fife Council’s planning department has been brilliant with us, but it also has to consult with other departments within the local authority.

“This landed on the EHO Noise Team’s desk which said that we needed an acoustic report completed, to British Standard 4142.

“I’ve yet to have any clarification, and it’s been dragging on since April.

“I know they need to do their jobs and we quite rightly need to be treated the same as everyone else, but do they need this 4142 or not? I just can’t get it clarified.

“This is essentially what’s stopping us from opening up.”

As with all red tape, it seems to have boiled down to what the council called a “misunderstanding”.

Don Taylor, lead officer, explained: “The advice given to the project developers is to employ an acoustician to carry out a formal noise report to support their planning application, which will help ensure that any noise insulation is correct.

“This is a residential area and any use of the building must take that into account.”

With that issue addressed, albeit yet to be signed off, the route map to the YW opening can be progressed.

Stephen Barbour,events manager, is reviving his company, SPB Events, with a view to bringing big names to town – he had Ed Byrne and Frankie Boyle lined up for summer gigs that had to be put on hold.

He said: “From July we’ve been turning down things that had booked as we expected to be open, and people approaching us to use it.

“In partnership with the Kings we’re going to launch a programme of events around the local area in the new year, to get the Kings name out there” he added.

“Shows will be in other venues but will help to raise awareness of,and funds for, the Kings and also showcase what we should have been doing in our own building.”

And, as those gigs are unveiled, the YW is working to a possible launch come the end of 2018.

John Murray, board member, said: “Our priority is working with planning and licensing boards to get the YWCA venue open, which is still unnamed at the moment.

“We need to get things like the fire and liquor licences in place, at the conclusion of that we could open at any time.”

Much of the work going on has been behind the scenes, with the Kings very much a long-term ambition – one similar in scale to Leith Theatre, which has seen it brought back from 40 years of neglect to be a resounding success as a venue at this year’s Edinburgh International Festival where it hosted a series of concerts, culminating in Hollywood star Alan Cumming’s late night club show which was streamed live online.

The building itself is far from finished, but the fact it was able to be used for bands of the calibre of Mogwai, underlined its potential – and how the Kings could follow a similar path in time.

Said John: “There are no reasons for any pessimism or changes to our plans. We now have someone outwith the board who is working as a fundraiser.

“We are looking at acquiring major grants which will be needed to do all the capital work on the main venue, which is hugely positive. We had local councillors in for a tour over the last couple of months, so they could get an idea of the scale of things.

“This was always going to be a phased project where we planned to open up the YW, get some trade going and look at getting some major funding for the Kings Theatre.

“We’re still moving forward, even in these austere times. It’s not quite as easy getting capital funding as it once was but, as a board, we are full of enthusiasm.”

“After the YW is open we’ll be looking to take bookings from the local community to use the venue.

“In the longer term we’re looking at associations with Fife College with respect to restaurant facilities.

“Of course, we’re not losing focus on the theatre project, which is the big one.

“We’re still going to be raising funds, raising awareness, but keeping it mothballed until we have enough capital to get it under way.

“We’re still looking for volunteers to come and help.

“There’s always something needing done, down to just helping to keep the building tidy and secure.”

The Kings Theatre first Kirkcaldy opened its doors in 1906.

It then became the Hippodrome and a music hall in 1916, hosting many big names of that era.

Cinema then beckoned and it became one of the town’s main movie houses until the doors closed in 2000 after the Odeon bought the old ABC.

It remained boarded up until the current project started two years ago.