THE CHARITY behind one of Scotland’s most historic theatres has warned it has “fallen through the cracks” in obtained rescue funding – while a vital refurbishment project could be axed, putting the future of the venue in doubt.

Capital Theatres has been forced to cancel Edinburgh’s popular pantomime amid the Covid-19 crisis – with the annual event usually making up around 30 per cent of the King’s Theatre’s revenue.

Along with Sleeping Beauty no longer going ahead, Scotland’s largest theatre charity has been forced to empty its funding pot intended for a revamp of the King’s Theatre, which welcomes around 200,000 visitors a year – with the project vital to the venue’s future.

Fiona Gibson, CEO of Capital Theatres, said the hard decision taken to cancel this year’s pantomime will be “quite devastating for the business”.

She added: “The scale of the panto is huge – it's not just a non-socially distanced audience, it’s also actually the cast, and getting in a large set.

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“All of those things require people to work closely together and that’s not safe for them. That’s why we’ve had to make the decision early to not go for it.”

The King's panto is Scotland's best-selling event of its type – attracting more than 90,000 people each festive season.

The pantomime has only been cancelled three times in the 114-year history of the theatre.

Ms Gibson has called for funding made available to the arts sector to take all elements of the industry into account with a “whole ecology approach”.

She said: “It needs to support the artists, it needs to support the producers and it needs to support the venues. I’m not sure they are looking at it as an ecology.

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“All pieces of that jigsaw need to come together and need to be able to collaborate and survive at the same pace or it will be very hard for it all to come back.”

Ms Gibson has also criticised the lack of flexibility for ensuring venues are eligible for funding with her charity missing out on money because it’s neither a commercial business or a regularly funded organisation (RFO).

She said: “That’s where we have fallen through the cracks because we’re not an RFO, you’re also not a commercial operator.

“We have been applying to lots of these emergency funds for support – but because we have built up some money to do the King's project, we’re not insolvent and people look at that and say well, you’ve got a strong business model so you’re not really able to fit the criteria for some of the funds.

“It's almost a double jeopardy because we’re dipping in now to the savings that we have created for the King’s project.”

But with funding for the £25 million revamp of the King’s Theatre now being depleted to stay afloat, the project could face the axe. The refurbishment has already been delayed until September 2022 and the charity will need to replace funding it has been forced to dip into.

HeraldScotland: The theatre is set to undergo refurbishmentThe theatre is set to undergo refurbishment

The venue opened in 1906 and is one of a handful of Grade A listed theatres in the UK that is yet to undergo a major redevelopment.

Ms Gibson said: “The lease runs out in July 2023, so that’s when it gets really tricky if we haven’t started the refurbishment by then.

“You are ending up with a potentially inoperable theatre and the lease that the board have got to consider whether they would sign it again.”

She added: “It’s not the audience side, it’s actually the artistic side of the theatre that requires a lot of the work to be done. That hinders at your operating licence to be a theatre.

"There is a lot of work in our plan about making it a real community asset so ensure we can open it through the day. “We got support from the National Lottery Heritage fund as part of our campaign and obviously they want to see that heritage retained. You have to keep the shell, and a lot of the internal of the King’s is beautiful and historic so you have to work around those things.”

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The charity had put around £2.3 million for the refurbishment aside but Ms Gibson expects at least £1 million to have disappeared by March next year, when she hopes to be able to re-open.

She added: “In terms of a fully-functioning, non-socially distanced theatre, that’s the horizon we are working to at the moment.

“If anything changes then obviously we would love to do something earlier and maybe we could do some test things earlier, maybe in a socially distanced way. But you certainly couldn’t run the scale of shows that we put on in our theatres in a socially distanced way because it’s just not financially viable.”

Ms Gibson has warned that trying to plan future shows amid the ever-changing nature of the pandemic is “like a massive game of Jenga”.

She said: “The lead times for the producers themselves will range between four and six months. They need to know that they can be non-socially distanced pretty much by autumn this year for us to have a full programme ready for March onwards.

“We expect that if we are able to open in March, it will probably be a phased return – it probably won’t be a full-tilt programme until probably after the festivals next year, into the autumn.

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“All the producers are restructuring their tours every minute of the day. We have a programme and we have some good shows that will be coming up in the spring, but as closer they get to the autumn point, they won’t be able to rehearse so they will have to change the dates again.”

Ms Gibson said that both the UK and Scottish Governments “haven’t forgotten culture” in their plans to keep sectors afloat, but warned that funding is “taking a long time to come to fruition”.

She added that there has been no information as to how Scottish venues can access a UK Government fund announced weeks ago.