His Majesty's Theatre

His Majesty’s Theatre opened on Christmas Eve 1904 with an inspired performance of “The Forty Thieves”.   People have been making a song and dance about the building ever since.

Opening Night 1904.

Back in 1904 it was the largest theatre in Australia, seating over 2500 people. Unfortunately this capacity was never tested on the opening night, as the only full house on Christmas Eve, is generally where the heart is. Some say that the “Forty Thieves” actually outnumbered the audience.

   

His Majesty's Theatre

His Majesty’s Theatre is an ornate four storey building, constructed between 1902 and 1904. The theatre was styled in the architectural form known as “Edwardian Baroque”. Buildings of this style are generally light in colour, and display many decorative elements. This means it's a very flashy structure, dressed up with some early 20th century bling. The style is definitely an acquired taste, though being the only Edwardian theatre remaining in Australia, it now commands respect.

His Majesty's Theatre.
 

 

The Inside Story

Notice there are more decorative features on the top two storeys.

Spot The Difference?

Keen observers will notice a disparity in the amount of ornamental bling on the facade. It appears that the architect, Mr William Wolfe, was more generous with the decorative features on the upper storeys. However, he had originally designed the theatre with a two level verandah, extending around the lower levels.  These were removed in 1947-48, when the supporting pillars were deemed to be a traffic hazard.  No longer obscured, the lower storeys now appear a little less fancy, than those above them.

The classic Edwardian Horseshoe seating arrangement.

The auditorium was designed in the Edwardian horseshoe style, with three levels of seating. The idea was to bring the audience closer to the performers. In reality a full house resembles a basketball team in a Mini Cooper. Having enjoyed a performance from the upper gallery, we are prepared to stick our necks out on that one.  In fact we did.  Ouch!

Looking down on the stage from the Dress Circle.

\Looking up from the Stalls.

 

View from the Dress Circle.

One of the original six bars has been fully restored.

The building originally included a 65 room hotel, where audience members could retire for the evening, or enjoy a drink from one of the many bars.  It all seemed rather extravagant for 1904, though Perth was enjoying all the optimism and wealth, associated with the Gold Boom.  

The hotel has since been converted into administration, and rehearsal rooms for the performers.

The ornate entry foyer to the Dress Circle.

 An original Hotel Bar.

 

Entry foyer to the Dress Circle.

 
Auditorium Oddities

Back in 1904 there was no air conditioning, so with 2584 people sitting in the horseshoe tiers, a full house quickly became a hot house. To alleviate the discomfort, two ingenious features were incorporated into the auditorium.  The most effective being the sliding “Sky Dome”.  Using a hand operated mechanism, the dome was parted during Perth’s warm balmy nights. Even with a poor theatrical performance, it was still possible to raise the roof.   Theatre folklore includes a story where one unfortunate person was struck by lightning during A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  After enduring numerous thunderstorms, and stray pigeon droppings, the novelty soon disappeared.  The dome was permanently sealed in 1980.

As a secondary cooling solution, two waterfalls were created on each side of the stage. It was a clever idea, though rather short lived. The sound of running water had an unfortunate effect on the bladders of the audience, and an extra intermission was needed during the longer performances. The waterfalls were discretely turned off, and made no further appearances. Thankfully, modern air conditioning was installed during the 1977-80 renovation.
 

The Sky Dome.

 

The Sky Dome may no longer slide open, but the original decorative elements have been faithfully restored.

 

Air Conditioning 1904 Style.

With a little imagination you can visualise the auditorium that welcomed patrons in 1904.  In those early days, the real stars of the show were light years above the stage.

Technical Update:  We took the Theatre Tour just like everyone else.  It appears our guide may have taken some theatrical license when describing the waterfall arrangement.  He enthusiastically pointed to the hole in the wall, and we went with it 110%. Technical advice since received, indicates the actual arrangement may have been somewhat less glamorous.  Would a couple of wet hessian bags strung over a balcony sound reasonable.  That’s show business!
 

                      What's His Majesty?

The theatre was named in honour of King Edward VII, of the United Kingdom, whose reign encompassed the construction period of the theatre. The Edwardian Era lasted from 22nd January 1901, until his death on 6th May 1910. The building was originally named His Majesty’s Theatre and Hotel. The name Edward was never officially included in the title, so after a succession of British monarchs, his link to the theatre is now mostly forgotten. Over time, the name has been affectionately abbreviated to “The Maj”.

King Edward VII aka His Majesty.


Even after a century of theatrical history, no ghost has officially taken up residence in the building.

 

King Edward VII

Cate's Place.
Cate's Place.

Famous People At "The Maj".

Many distinguished performers have graced the stage of His Majesty’s Theatre.  Name dropping is a common practice in this industry, so here are a few.  Anna Pavlova, Sir Rex Harrison, Chas Licciardello, Dame Nellie Melba, and Katherine Hepburn.

When visiting the theatre, you cannot help but get swept away with all the show business hype. We snapped this shot of dressing room number 8, where none other than Cate Blanchett got changed during her 2009 appearance in “The War of the Roses”.  WOW!  Top stuff, but we still think her best work was, Dr Irina Spalko, in "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull".

With a disturbing lack of historical buildings, Perth has the world’s lowest ratio of ghosts
 per head of living population.  
How low do you ask? Things got so bad, even the
Phantom of the Opera  didn’t turn up.
These days, only the steep admission prices will send a shiver up your spine.

We spotted this lady behind the stage during the Historical Day Tour. She was actually just a visitor from the previous tour, tormented by over 100 years of fun show business anecdotes. The position is still vacant.

Something Strange!

 

During the 1970's new forms of entertainment, and alternative venues became available to the people of Perth. His Majesty's Theatre started to fall into neglect.   The house was destined to be brought down in one last explosive performance.  However public outcry forced the State Government to purchase, and renovate the theatre during the late 1970’s.  In a wise decision, Christmas Eve was avoided for the reopening night.  The 28th of May, 1980 launched a new era for the theatre.  The performing arts now continue to enjoy the facilities of His Majesty’s Theatre, and patrons in the upper gallery, the charm of Edwardian design.

 

More....  More....  More....    Encore Please!

Before we close the final curtain on "The Maj", we could not help but include an old photo of the building taken back in 1904.  You can see the wrap around verandah which was removed in 1947-48.  Even back then, the supporting pillars looked way too close to the road. Road noise eventually became an issue as modern motor vehicles started driving around the theatre.  Special sound proofing material was added during the 1977-80 renovation, to quieten things down.

   
                                  Well that's all folks!

 LOCATION:  825 Hay Street, Perth. (Corner of King Street)

Back to the Old Perth Page.

His Majesty's Theatre in 1904.

 

 Copyright © 2011 LifeOnPerth.com