Walter is a writer, editor and broadcaster living on Kaurna Country. His work has appeared in Rip It Up, The Saturday Paper, Smith Journal, Royal Auto, Swampland Magazine, Broadsheet and The Thousands.
Her Majesty's Theatre remixes Art Nouveau style for a new era
Two years and a whole lot of steel later, the curtains have finally been raised on Her Majesty’s Theatre’s $66 million overhaul. Essentially everything but the walls might be new, but its designers have held the theatre’s 107-year history close.
And it certainly has been a from the ground up sort of project, with the $66-million build courting consternation from some quarters as the theatre’s original 1913 façade was braced by titanic steel beams and its insides thoroughly gutted. This, it seemed, would be an everything-but-the-face lift for the firm behind such high-profile projects as Adelaide Botanic High School and the Adelaide Oval redevelopment.
“We had many comments like ‘wow I had no idea you were actually gutting the whole building,’ and ‘it looks like a Hollywood prop’, just this façade sitting there and a gaping hole in the ground,” she admits. “I think people thought it was a restoration project – when it clearly is not a restoration. The primary aim was to make Her Majesty’s a viable venue for commercial touring shows.”
To meet those technical requirements on stage and behind it, the Festival Centre Trust made the $2 million acquisition of the land adjacent to the theatre for a new annex that would house the new venue’s three bars, bathrooms and other amenities, allowing the COX team to cram as much as they could into the original theatre’s footprint.
“The back of house provides a whole new multi- storey facility that supports a performance during and after the show, including a rehearsal room that is the same extent of the stage. Which is quite unheard of, and an incredible feat to get that in the back of house area.”
“There were some very tricky structural gymnastics that we had to do to ensure that not only did the original façade stand up, but to insert the new auditorium space and all the structure, the rigging and technical requirements. It was an incredible achievement.”
Despite the scale of the overhaul, Zoe and the team worked to ensure the new Her Majesty’s was spiritually, if not physically, in step with the theatre’s century-long history. “The Festival Centre had actually salvaged some of the original 1913 building components from the demolition; one was a pressed metal detail which had this incredible, Aztec-inspired pattern somewhere in between Art Deco and Art Nouveau. When the building was designed it sort of bridged the two periods, really.”
“It was important for us to then somehow deconstruct those elements, and let them inform the new design,” she says. “Essentially, we’ve taken two or three elements from the original interiors, and then incorporated them into contemporary patterns and forms that really leaned heavily on that original Art Nouveau curve. It’s informed not just the auditorium, but these beautiful spiral staircases that curve gracefully and fall to the floor – like a pair of ribbons from a ballet slipper.”
While the theatre was due to open in June with the Adelaide Cabaret Festival’s centrepiece Six The Musical, COVID-19 restrictions mean the stage will instead be broken in with a limited, intimate season of Slingsby Theatre’s The Tragical Life of Cheeseboy from 23 – 27 June.
Despite this low-key opening, it’s hoped that the new 1400-seat capacity seat will eventually recapture the scale and excitement of those early, pre-war performances, when a night at the theatre was the best form of entertainment in town.
Of course, just when that will happen is anyone’s guess.