When it comes to a typical festive sojourn to Australia, one reminisces of scenic trails, candid spottings of wild beasts and friendly koalas, and the brightly colored corals from the Great Barrier Reef. But if one were to enjoy the island continent in its caliginous lanes, under the soft yellow glow of streetlights, it would be in the sprawling theatres that boast of culturally significant time. Sydney is home to a wide variety of embellished theatres that offer an exquisitely different experience altogether available throughout the year.

One such ornate complex is the Her Majesty’s Theatre – a visual testament to Sydney’s glorious historic past. On a regular holiday season, the 19th-century structure, with its enchanting musicals and exalting monologues, hosts its visitors to a high-spirited evening exhibiting tasteful pleasures of royal heritage. 

The title, Her Majesty’s Theatre is attributed to three different structures belonging to different fragments of time. Subjected to unfortunate trials of nature and time the structure was designed and restored by multiple established architects on the following accounts:

THE GRAND INAUGURATION IN 1887

Located on the corner between Pitt Street and Market street, Her Majesty’s Theatre was originally designed by architects Morell and Kemp. The construction of the theatre began in December 1884 and was inaugurated on 10 September 1877 with a ceremonial opening play, Henry V. In its time of creation, the theatre was one among the largest and well-facilitated entertainment venues in the city. Her Majesty’s Theatre was also the first theatre that met the requirements as a result of the NSW Commission on Theatres.

The theatre complex featured a Baroque styled facade accentuated with Corinthian columns and accommodated official workplaces and a hotel. In accordance with the design style of theatre complexes in the 19th century, the gallery of the Her Majesty’s Theatre too could be accessed by a narrow winding staircase. The structure can house a total of 1770 audience members in its auditorium that was divided into three tiers – dress circle, family circle, and gallery each with three-stage boxes on either side of the proscenium. The proscenium arch, like any other element in the structure, is ornate with intricate symbols of the rose, shamrock, and thistle of Great Britain. 

On Sunday 23 March 1902, 15 years after the inauguration of the theatre a fire broke out ruining the interiors of the complex. The theatre, despite being equipped with extensive fire precautions including a brick firewall and an asbestos drop curtain, failed to operate under the unfortunate circumstances. 

Her Majesty's Theatre, Sydney by Morell and Kemp: A visual testament to Sydney’s historic past - Sheet1
The tragic fires in 1902. ©Wikipedia

THE ELABORATE RESTORATION FROM 1902 

Her Majesty’s Theatre was then redesigned by architect William Pitt junior and was reopened on 1 August 1903. The new theatre complex comprised a 4-storey structure that housed offices and drawing rooms on the Market street side of the stage, whereas the side facing the Pitt street retained its façade. 

The interiors of the newly designed complex adopted principles of Edwardian styles. The theatre had only tiers, a floor lesser than the original one but still could admit the usual capacity of 2000 audience members. The complex still exhibited an ornate proscenium and the auditorium donned a royal color scheme of cream, biscuit, brick red, and gradations of blue.

The theatre although having a narrower stage than the previous complex aided visitors with luxurious comforts in its carpeted floors and decorative tapestry. The redesign of Her Majesty’s Theatre enabled the complex against fires with the then-latest technology such as improved fire precautions, a switchboard at the backstage that facilitated the changing of lighting controls with dimmers.

During the early period of the 1930s, the theatre was sold owing to pressure from increasing entertainment taxes. The theatre was closed on 10 June 1933 and was adapted into offices and a variety of stores. The site was ultimately closed on 2 March 1970 and demolished to accommodate a commercial shopping center.

THE ADVANCEMENT TO A THIRD HER MAJESTY’S THEATRE IN 1960 

The third Her Majesty’s Theatre was not a new structure by itself but a building that evolved from an existing theatre titled Empire Theatre. Although the complex was on a different site from the previous Her Majesty’s theatres, the re-iteration of the name established a continuing association with the previous complexes. 

Located in Quay street the theatre complex could now host a maximum of 2,515 people. The auditorium adorned in a deep tone of blue for the carpet and powder blue for the front upholstery. In 1954, Williamson’s, the then owners made elaborate modifications in a deliberate attempt to revive the classic, old-fashioned interiors. 

On 21 May 1960, the theatre complex was reopened under the name of Her Majesty’s Theatre. For the next 10 years, the building functioned as an entertainment venue hosting vibrant musicals and elaborate plays. The theatre witnessed another catastrophic fire after which a smaller Her Majesty’s was rebuilt by architects John W Roberts and SA Baggs. It reopened in November 1973 and the design showcased the careful use of the limited space available. After a considerable amount of operation, the title of Her Majesty’s was given back to Empire Theatre. Her Majesty’s witnessed a decline in economic progress as well as commercial development that led to its untoward end. 

Her Majesty's Theatre, Sydney by Morell and Kemp: A visual testament to Sydney’s historic past - Sheet2
The re-opening of Her Majesty’s Theatre. ©Wikipedia
Subikshaa Stalin
Author

She is pursuing her bachelor's in architecture at NIT Trichy and dwells in the last pages of notebooks among shabby doodles of her canine friends. She believes every building is not just a combination of apt spaces but an idea capturing a narrative in history that is waiting to be told.

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