Old stagers

One of the strengths of the Dictionary is our wide and varied coverage of Sydney’s theatre history. Much of this can be credited to an indefatigable contributor, Ailsa McPherson.  Ailsa’s survey article outlines the history of theatrical production in Sydney from before the ships of the First Fleet arrived — there was a show put on by the convicts aboard the Scarborough on 2 January 1788, ‘with many songs’.

George Rignold, actor and manager

'Gorgeous George' Rignold, who became Sydney's pre-eminent Shakespearean actor, but kept his company going with melodrama and pantomime. Photo from National Library of Australia, nla.pic-vn3566474

She has also written about some of Sydney theatre’s outstanding personalities, such as George Rignold, Harry Rickards and, in the twentieth century, Doris Fitton.  Entrepreneur Barnett Levey and designer Phil Goatcher also strut the Dictionary’s stage.

Sydney’s lost theatres are well represented too. Many burnt down, in the days of candle and gas lighting, and fire was a constant hazard. The Prince of Wales theatre, in Castlereagh Street, burnt down in 1860, when it was only 5 years old. A new Prince of Wales theatre was built on the same site, opening in 1863, but it too was destroyed by fire in 1872. A new theatre, this time called the Theatre Royal, was built there and opened in 1875. It survived a fire in 1892, and remained in use as a theatre until it was consumed by the fire of Sydney’s development in the 1970s, when it was demolished as part of the MLC centre development. The new Theatre Royal, designed by Harry Seidler, was built into the basement of the complex.

Her Majesty's fire 1902

Crowds watch as Her Majesty's theatre is destroyed in 1902. Photo from the State Library of NSW, Dixson Library collection, a2264002/DL PXX 73/13

Most Sydney theatre names have been applied to more than one theatre. There have been a number of Her Majesty’s theatres, one destroyed by fire in 1902, another built on the same site (redeveloped for Centrepoint in the 1970s and most recently rebuilt as Westfield Sydney), and a third in Quay street near Haymarket, which burnt down in 1970 and was replaced by another Her Majesty’s, later called the Empire.

All these articles and entries are connected to many more, so have a look and bounce around. Remember there’s a contact link on the bottom of every page, so let us know your thoughts.

Majestic Theatre (later Elizabethan Theatre), Newtown 1929 Photo from the City of Sydney Archives, SRC12295

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About Emma Grahame

Emma Grahame has been Editorial Coordinator of the Dictionary of Sydney since May 2007.
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