Tayside and Central Scotland

Raising the curtain at the Pitlochry Festival Theatre

Pitlochry Festival Theatre design night Image copyright Pitlochry Festival Theatre
Image caption There are ambitious plans for an expansion and refurbishment of the Pitlochry Festival Theatre

The Pitlochry Festival Theatre is gearing up for its summer season in line with traditions dating dating back to 1951 - while also planning an ambitious £25m expansion.

Traditions are important in Pitlochry Festival Theatre.

From the piper who plays at the opening of the summer season, to the applause for the set design when the curtains open on any new play.

A newer tradition, established in 2009, is to open with a spectacular musical.

This year it's Whisky Kisses, a feel-good show about two collectors vying for the same rare bottle of whisky - the Glenigma.

The show was first created - by Euan Martin, Dave Smith and James Bryce - for the Highland Quest competition in 2007.

It came second but has since been performed around the county and for writer Euan Martin, the Pitlochry staging is particularly poignant.

"I grew up here," he said.

Image copyright Euan Martin
Image caption The original festival theatre building was a marquee in the grounds of Knockendarroch House
Image copyright Euan Martin
Image caption Euan Martin, centre, performed in local Pitlochry productions at the behest of his father
Image copyright Euan Martin
Image caption The theatre could once again be staged in a tent during refurbishment work in 2019

"My dad, Frank Martin, was a local minister here and he ran the east church drama group and roped in all members of the family and he got me to tread the boards as well.

"The church was directly across the street from the old Pitlochry theatre in Lower Oakfield and there was a family joke that sometimes when he turned up at the church he didn't know whether to turn left into the vestry, or right into the theatre."

The old theatre - originally a marquee in the grounds of Knockendarroch House - is long gone, and the "new" theatre, which dates back to 1981, is about to undergo the biggest transformation in its history.

But first the board and chief executive John Durnin must secure the £25m they need - and have set a target of completing work by 2021.

"The 2021 summer season would be 70 years to the day since the original PFT opened back in 1951 and it would be a fairly spectacular new set of facilities on the existing site," Mr Martin said.

Image copyright John MacKenzie
Image caption The current Pitlochry Festival Theatre building was completed in 1981
Image copyright Pitlochry Festival Theatre
Image caption The board need to raise £25m to complete their vision for the theatre by 2021

"The familiar building would be wrapped around with new opportunities in terms of the Front of House, the refurbished auditorium, a full height fly tower to allow us to tour work in and out, potentially a second space, a smaller auditorium and new facilities for production and training as well."

While securing funding and getting the work done is a job in itself, persuading regular patrons that the refurbishment is a good thing may be a slightly harder task.

Many of those in the café bar have been coming since the start.

"I'm a little worried that they'll go too far, as lots of things do when they expand," said one lady.

"People come for what's here - the actors, the company, the scenery. They should concentrate on what they have right here."

If the fundraising programme is successful, the company will begin to transform from 2016, when its summer season will extend into the spring as well as autumn, and tour shows round Scotland and further afield.

And in a nod to its origins, during the two-year refurbishment from 2019, the theatre season will be once again staged in a marquee in another part of the town.

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