Edinburgh is famous for its unique cultural history, preserved not only in its museums and art galleries but also in its theatres. The backstage tour of Festival Theatre represents this by revealing the incredible history of this cornerstone of the Edinburgh theatre scene, showcasing a captivating journey that creates an immersive, engaging experience for locals and tourists alike. This exhaustive, access-all-areas tour is a celebration not only of the wonders of theatre but also of Edinburgh, providing a brilliant opportunity to enrich your knowledge of Scotland’s capital city.
The history and workings of Festival Theatre, formerly the Empire Theatre, offer plenty of remarkable material for attendees to eat up, making the two-hour tour pass in the blink of an eye. The tour was exceptionally steered by our guide, Graham, an usher at the theatre and a charismatic story-teller. Graham struck the perfect balance between fact and anecdote, showcasing his extensive knowledge while ensuring that each and every attendee was thoroughly immersed and entertained. His particular accommodations for children, such as sending them ahead to enter a box or the dressing room, demonstrate the active desire to make the theatrical experience accessible and enjoyable for everyone.
Facts and information were enriched by anecdotes that brought the theatre to life and, though there are too many to mention, a couple of favourites must be shared. During the Second World War, Judy Garland invited the female workers of a munitions factory that were sat in the audience to meet her backstage and gave them each a square of her dress as thanks for their service. More recently, a production of Mary Poppins saw the leading lady fly into a hole hidden in the roof of the auditorium, preserving the magic of the performance even for those in the Upper Circle, or the ‘vomitorium.’
Of course, no Edinburgh tour would be complete without a ghost story, and Festival Theatre does not disappoint. The ghost of Lafayette: a famous illusionist from the early 20th century, who perished in a fire at the Empire Theatre in 1911, along with ten of his audience members. This tale was a highlight of the tour, as Graham deftly built tension in the lead up to the story and enhanced his narration with supplementary resources such as photos and newspaper articles from the time. The ending of the story, describing a seat in the theatre left empty for Lafayette’s ghost, sent a delicious chill up everyone’s spines.
The backstage tour of Edinburgh’s Festival Theatre is an amazing opportunity to discover quirks and hidden gems, and uncover the theatre’s forgotten yet fascinating past. It also gives a much-needed reminder of just how much Edinburgh has to offer in terms of culture and history, and how easily this can be taken for granted.
Festival Theatre runs backstage tours the first Saturday of every month, March – July. Book here
Image: Globaltraveller via Wikimedia Commons