Leith Theatre has had an extraordinary history since it was first gifted to the people of the burgh of Leith, as they officially became part of the city of Edinburgh.
It was open for less than a decade when bomb damage in the World War Two closed it again.
It was revived as a venue by the Edinburgh International Festival in the 1960s and bands like Mott the Hoople and AC/DC played there in the 70s.
And then the building once more fell silent, with the only sound the flutter of pigeon wings in the rafters.
Now the theatre is slowly coming back to life, as part of a campaign led by Leith Theatre Trust.
And the latest show to be staged there could be the strangest and most ambitious to date.
The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is a collaboration between the National Theatre of Scotland and Selkie Productions. Audiences with tickets for the initial shows this weekend will arrive at the theatre and be ushered onto a working film set.
A week later, the show will be streamed into cinemas around the country, and after that they’ll make a feature film in collaboration with Sky Arts.
Is it a play, or a film? According to director Hope Dickson Leach, it’s both.
“I think it’s so incredibly hard to make anything, whether that’s a film, or a play or a television series,” she says.
“It’s such a labour of love and having worked with the National Theatre of Scotland to make Ghost Light for the Edinburgh International Festival it was wonderful to continue the conversation about what storytelling is.”
“Hybrid has been a way for theatre audiences to experience work when they can’t get in the theatres themselves. So I dreamt it up, what would I like to see, and once we got going I realised just how ambitious and insane this idea was.”
Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1886 novella has been adapted many times, for the stage and the screen, but Hope felt there was still scope to show audiences something they hadn’t seen before.
“It’s an iconic story that people around the world are familiar with, so what was exciting was to go back to the original Stevenson text and see how it was structured like a thriller, a crime drama.”
‘Privilege to play’
Henry Pettigrew plays Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.
“It’s a real privilege to play such an iconic part. It’s a very famous role but you don’t want to think too much about how big a part it is, or it would freak you out.”
On top of that, it’s a role he has to play simultaneously on screen and on stage.
Six camera crews will follow the action round a number of sets installed in the old theatre space. There’s a Victorian drawing room, an office, and of course, a laboratory.
Everything will be filmed and edited live in front of the audience in the theatre.
It’s an ambitious concept, which will allow audiences to see everything behind the scenes.
And that’s a new challenge for the cast, who include Tam Dean Burn, Caroline Deyga, Lois Hagerty, David Hayman, Scott Miller, Alison Peebles, Peter Singh, Ali Watts – all used to working on screen and on stage, but not simultaneously.
Lorn Macdonald plays Dr Utterson.
“It really is a hybrid production, not just in the way it is going to turn out but the way we’re working on it,” he says.
“We rehearse it like it’s a play, but we’re also rehearsing for cameras and we have to remember those positions, twisting your mind, and fixing how those things are going to work. It’s a huge memory job. For me, I feel that we’re making a film, but the process has definitely been theatre.”
“I think it’s going to be exciting for an audience to come and see the cogs in motion,” adds Henry.
“They’ll see how the production works, they’ll probably see us doing our costume changes, running from one location to the next. It should be really exciting.”
Writer Vlad Butucea has moved the original story from London to Edinburgh, making it even more apt for its Leith Theatre setting.
Its themes of good and evil, of rich and poor, take on even more resonance in this historic building, which still has echoes of the past in every corridor.
And the transformation at the heart of the story? Well, that’s enough to make your head spin as theatre audiences watch live cinema being made, and cinema audiences watch live theatre in the making.
The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde: Live at Leith Theatre 25 to 27 February 2022 at 7pm
The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde: Live from Leith Theatre – Screening in cinemas from February 27th