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’.
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.
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.
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