A Theatrical History

By Giles Moss on March 18th

Nineteen. Nineteen. Na-na-na-na-na nineteen. As Paul Hardcastle famously sung in 1985, although I don’t think he wasn’t talking about running nineteen theatres on the Fringe.

Now, theSpaceUK wasn’t around back then, but by 1995 the founders of the company had taken on the running of Old St Paul’s Church Hall on Jeffrey Street - which became Venue 45, our old lady of the Fringe to this day. Back then things looked very different, the company was just a few friends, we could smoke inside, and we partied until dawn almost every night. The heady atmosphere of the Festival in the late nineties sucked us in good and proper, and over the next few years we matured into theSpaceUK of today.

At first, our first expansion was modest. In 2006 we took on a room at Jurys Inn which became Venue 260. In the following two years we had a couple of ventures down to Holyrood with the MacDonald Hotel (Venue 37, 2007) and into Leith with the Thistle Hotel (our original Venue 36, 2008). The changing requirements from our companies over the years has meant we have moved on from these spaces as the rooms in which we operated didn’t suit the sort of spaces we need to build nowadays. They knocked the old Thistle building (the St James Mall) down in 2018, actually - we were watching to see if we could see the old theatre have its walls ripped open to the demolition machines.

Our two largest venues came about in two different ways. The Radisson Hotel (theSpace on the Mile and theSpace @ Niddry St) started out as a single space in 2008 and has kept steadily growing until we added the final fifth theatre, Mile 3, in 2015. By contrast, our four-theatre complex at theSpace @ Surgeons’ Hall on Nicholson Street went in with a huge bang in 2009 and has been running like that ever since - though we did redesign the Grand Theatre along the way.

Sitting virtually on top of Jeffrey Street, running venues in the Carlton Hotel was a no-brainer for us. We first expanded into two theatres and our Cabaret Bar there in 2011. A hotel redevelopment a few years later meant we had to leave them behind but in 2017, with the refurb over, we were delighted to return to a pair of even smarter, tidier spaces - Perth and Argyll - right in the heart of the hotel. theSpace on North Bridge was further expanded in 2018 with the Fife Theatre.

The partnership we have at the Surgeons’ Quarter and the forming of a strong base up there on Nicholson Street has led to a natural expansion in the area. We added the Symposium Hall in 2010 and our dual-space complex at theSpace Triplex in 2015. We’ve even got further news on this area for 2019...

The style of venue we operate is always optimised to the rooms we have. Sure, every theatre needs certain elements like a stage and some seats, and we have a good idea of the stage size to audience capacity sweet spot that our performing companies really like. Additionally, thrust theatres in particular offer delightful intimacy and our lineup of such theatres shows how extremely popular this is. But some rooms are just calling out for particular layouts so we have some theatres where we went in with particular design ideas:

The Upper Theatre at theSpace @ Niddry St is a large in the round space, unique on the Fringe. Rather like children, we can’t really have favourites, but if we did, this theatre is a strong contender amongst the senior production team. It’s astonishingly flexible, has a huge stage, looks beautiful with grey truss and black chairs, and did I mention it’s in the round? Companies adore it - we could sell it twice over and still have a queue of bookings.

Big and impressive in a different way is theSpace Triplex’s Big Theatre (I never said we were good at naming these!). Sporting our highest truss rig (over 4m) and a vaulted ceiling extending far above even this, Big Theatre is just spectacular. It has a giant acting area (yes, a thrust stage!), a large audience and is massively popular with the larger and higher octane shows in our programme. We also put a big d&b audiotechnik sound system in here so musically it kicks arse too.

And that brings us to 2019. With more theatres than ever before, we have come further than any of us could have believed back in 1995. From one to nineteen theatres, three to well over a hundred staff, the core team of friends who partied through the night back then are still at the helm. We might not be as hands-on with the changeovers now, and I have to admit that none of us can party like we used to, but the fundamental principles on which we built theSpaceUK have not wavered.