A striking stand-alone piece of modernist architecture, the Gordon Aikman Lecture Theatre has been the home of lectures, music gigs, film screenings, comedy shows and student protests since its unveiling in George Square in 1970.
Gordon Aikman Lecture Theatre, George Square
Formerly known as the George Square Theatre, the venue was recently renamed after Motor Neurone Disease campaigner Gordon Aikman, an Edinburgh Business graduate who sadly died in February 2017. Here, members of the University community share their memories of this iconic multipurpose building.
We asked our alumni for their memories on Facebook and here are some of their responses.
Sarah Purves (MA Politics, 1995) Went to the Film Society there most Sunday nights in the early 90s.
Kimberley Bing Harsley (MA French and History, 2013) I saw Dave Gorman there at the Fringe, which was a strange experience as the last time I had been there was for a Medieval History lecture about the plague!
Catriona Milligan (MA Celtic and Scottish Historical Studies, 1987) Pretty sure I was at an early Capercaillie gig there somewhere around 1986! Passed it every day going between the David Hume Tower and the School of Scottish Studies.
J Gordon Hughes (BSc Computer Science, 1979) My first memory of George Square Theatre was as an undergraduate seeing the 1978 Edinburgh University Opera production of the Bizet opera Don Procopio in a very professional production with an impressive set.
Melanie Reid (MA English Literature, 1999) I think I sat a Philosophy exam in there in the second year (as well as countless lectures)! I had to go to the toilet halfway through my exam and got lost on the way back! It all worked out OK in the end. Was the exam really happening if I wasn’t there to see it?
David McLeod (Law (LLB), 1976) Film Soc most Sundays in the 70s. I remember seeing some cracking films there and am sure I saw a great double bill – Don’t Look Now and Play Misty For Me.
Carole Binbrek (MA Arts, 1966) Went to see many Royal Scottish Country Dance Society Edinburgh Branch summer shows there. Sat in the back row when my daughter was small. Long, long way down to the basement for an ice cream.
Richard A. Davis (PhD Divinity, 2013) Provided a little shelter from the rain approaching the Library from the David Hume Tower.
Katie Brooks (PhD Molecular and Cellular Basis of Disease, 2004) Everything from the annual Enlightenment Lecture to Out of the Blue a cappella gigs at the Fringe!
Mahwish Arif (MSc Computer Science, 2013) Peter Higgs lecture My life as a boson back in 2012 before he was awarded the Nobel Prize.
Duncan MacInnes (MA Politics, 1973) I saw Ian Charleson in Marat-Sade there. Also WH Auden gave a reading there at a Poetry Festival organised by Andrew Greig. Auden died in 1973 so it must have been just before.
Medea Santonocito (MSc Contemporary History, 2017) My first gig ever with Edinburgh Uni DrumSoc.
(MA Fine Art 1970)
“I associate George Square, now Gordon Aikman, Lecture Theatre with film more than anything else, as it was the main venue for the University Film Society programme in my student days. The first use of the theatre as a cinema was by the Edinburgh International Film Festival (EIFF) in 1969. The festival used the venue five times that year, including for the world premiere of The Stones In Hyde Park and compilations of films by Kenneth Anger and Andy Warhol. It continued to be used by EIFF through the 1970s and it became the cinema of choice for films from the European avant-garde, American independent filmmakers, underground films, political cinema, music films and student films.
“As a student in 1965 I joined the Film Society when films were screened on Sundays in Adam House and there were on average 18 screenings per year. With a growing membership, the Film Society began to book an even wider range of films. The prospect of the new 500-seat George Square Theatre was exciting for those of us who were then on the programming committee and we ensured that there would be two 16mm projectors in the theatre so that films could be projected without interruptions for reel changes. The 1969/70 programme had 47 screenings, almost all of them double bills, shared between the George Square Theatre and the Appleton Tower. The improved experience of watching films in the new building contributed to the rise in membership which then reached 2,000. The following year the Film Society rented the 1,800-seat Odeon cinema for Sunday screenings and continued using George Square Theatre on Wednesdays.”
Jim Hickey is the former director of the Filmhouse and the Edinburgh International Film Festival, and since then has become a prolific filmmaker. His work includes the acclaimed short Hunger Artist and Frozen with Shirley Henderson.
Festivals Manager at the University
"The theatre is one of the biggest and longest serving Fringe venues. It was run by the National Youth Music Theatre as a venue up to 1996 at which point the University took it back over, and we then ran it as a Fringe venue ourselves up until 2010 with theatre, dance and comedy as part of our programme. Some famous people have performed there as kids, and we’ve been the preferred venue of some famous comedians such as Dave Gorman, Ross Noble and Doug Stanhope. We’ve also hosted shows as diverse as the BBC New Comedy Awards and the Krankies!"
Notable events over the years
The world premiere of Bill Douglas’ My Childhood took place in 1972 with Bill present. The film is regarded as very important to Scottish cinema and went on to have international success.
The theatre has been a popular music venue with memorable gigs by Ian Dury (1977), Simple Minds (1979), The Human League and The Cure (1980) and Peter Skellern (1985).
Academics and literary figures have delivered talks and recitals including Pulitzer Prize-winning poet WH Auden (in the early 1970s), theoretical physicist and Nobel Prize laureate Peter Higgs (2012) and ambient music composer and producer Brian Eno (2017).