One of the city’s most historic performance spaces, which now hosts performances by the Scottish Opera and touring rock acts
Among Edinburgh’s best and biggest theatrical spaces, the Festival Theatre is unique in that it offers the best of multiple eras to its public. Opened as the Festival in 1994, it was constructed from the remains of the old Empire Palace Theatre, a hall that had been around since 1892, and which was known to locals as a variety and concert hall that had welcomed acts including Laurel and Hardy, Judy Garland, Morecambe and Wise and David Bowie over the decades. It also came complete with its own theatrical ghost story, with renowned illusionist The Great Lafayette having burned to death there during a performance in 1911.
Yet the old Empire was a rather ugly, red brick building, and when it came time to renovate it, the entire frontage was demolished to create a gleaming new glass-walled foyer. So while the internal, tiered theatre space remains in the classic style, the three-level foyer incorporates a bar on each level, with views across the city from the top floor and an all-day café bar on the ground floor called Th’eatrey. With the largest stage in Scotland, the Festival is an extremely versatile space, hosting touring musical productions, Edinburgh International Festival shows and low-key rock concerts (Elvis Costello and James Blunt have recently appeared). It’s also the Edinburgh home of Scottish Opera and Scottish Ballet.
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