Playwright James Ley receives cultural commission to explore Edinburgh’s LGBT history

                               Photo: James Ley. Taken by David Monteith for The Traverse Fifty.

As people from across Scotland get set for Edinburgh Pride this Saturday LGBT Youth Scotland is delighted to announce that Edinburgh-based playwright James Ley is the latest recipient of LGBT History Month Scotland’s Cultural Commissions Award, which aims to fund exciting, innovative artwork exploring Scotland’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender history.

James will spend the year working on a new play which will be performed during LGBT History Month in February 2016.

The play will tell the real-life story of LGBT innovators Bob Orr and American-born writer Sigrid Nielsen, who began their careers selling books from the cloakroom of Fire Island nightclub on Princes Street, Edinburgh, now the site of the city’s flagship Waterstones.

By 1982, Bob and Sigrid had made enough money to secure a bank loan, opening Scotland’s first LGBT bookshop, Lavender Menace, in a basement just off Broughton Street. In 1987, the groundbreaking bookshop migrated to Dundas Street, changing its name to West & Wilde to honour LGBT writers Vita Sackville West and Oscar Wilde.

With a street-level window displaying the cream of LGBT literature to passing New Towners, the bookshop became a valuable social space for Edinburgh’s LGBT community and attracted visitors from all over the world before its closure in 1997.

West & Wilde also became a venue for performances of adaptations of some of the books, and James hopes to bring these adaptations back to life in his own play.

‘I recently met with Bob and his partner Ray who generously shared Bob’s story with me. I want to take the audience back to the atmosphere of this intriguing and magical bookshop that was so important to the LGBT community and to the Edinburgh community as a whole for more than a decade,’ said James.

He continued: ‘I want to explore what we’ve lost in the last two decades, what we’ve gained and what’s stayed the same. I’m fascinated that there was a gay club on Princes Street that was in-your-face, provocative and counter-cultural, as I question whether that could exist now in a more corporate, buttoned-up city.’

Fergus McMillan, Chief Executive of LGBT Youth Scotland, who coordinate LGBT History Month Scotland, said: ‘We’re really excited by James’s proposal. His Commission will be the first theatre piece we have had and will capture an important and unexplored part of Scotland’s LGBT history for posterity.’

Fergus continued, ‘Securing the Cultural Commissions Award is a significant achievement. The standard of applications is very high and we had more submissions than ever before this year. We were really heartened by the number of artists seeking to make quality art on the theme of LGBT history and equality, and choosing between so many exciting, innovative projects was very difficult.’

Funded by Creative Scotland, the Cultural Commissions Award will compliment a vibrant programme of events taking place all over Scotland in February 2016 celebrating LGBT History Month and marking the significant contribution lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people have made throughout history.

Previous recipients of the Cultural Commissions Award include Sandra Alland, Lucy Holmes-Elliott, Garry Mac and Zoe Strachan.

For more information on LGBT History Month and previous cultural commissions go to: www.lgbthistory.org.uk


1/ LGBT History Month takes place in Scotland every February. It is an opportunity to celebrate lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer lives and culture, and to recognise the significant contribution LGBT people have made to our country and the world at large. LGBT History Month Scotland is a project coordinated by LGBT Youth Scotland. www.lgbthistory.org.uk

2/ LGBT Youth Scotland is the largest youth and community-based organisation for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in Scotland. Our vision is to: “empower lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender young people and the wider LGBT community so that they are embraced as full members of the Scottish family at home, school and in every community.” www.lgbtyouth.org.uk

3/ LGBT Youth Scotland is a company limited by guarantee (No 244805) with charitable status (SC024047). Registered at 40 Commercial Street, Edinburgh, EH6 6JD

4/ James Ley is available for interview. Please contact LGBT Youth Scotland to arrange.

6/ A short video on the project can be viewed at https://vimeo.com/125382779

5/ Press Contact: Zara Kitson, 0141 552 7425 or email: zara.kitson@lgbtyouth.org.uk