Melbourne is considered Australia’s cultural capital (even if mostly by Melburnians themselves). It has long been home to local, expatriate and visiting artists, actors and creative types who have needed somewhere to showcase their talents. While the big, glitzy Regent, Princess and Forum theatres are the city’s most obvious performance spaces, there are many theatres that have established their voice and sense of belonging in the city and surrounding suburbs that locals have come to love. Here are some favourites.
Melbourne Theatre Company
The Southbank Theatre is home to the MTC, Australia’s oldest professional theatre company founded in 1953. Opened in January 2009, the performance space was designed by ARM Architecture (Ashton Raggatt McDougall), the firm that also designed the National Museum of Australia, the Melbourne Recital Centre, Perth Arena and the Marion Cultural Centre in Adelaide.
In addition to the performance spaces, the Southbank building also houses Script Bar & Bistro, function rooms, foyers and two foyer bars. The main season of 10 to 12 major plays a year often sees headline actors, directors and playwrights performing to full houses. Prior to its home in Southbank, MTC was based in the Melbourne Athaneum, St Martins Theatre, the Comedy Theatre and the Princess Theatre.
Malthouse Theatre made its home in the old Malthouse in 1990, though it was known as Playbox until 2003.
Built in 1892 by the Castlemaine Brewery, the Malthouse ceased being a brewery in the 1970s, but it wasn’t until 1986 that Carlton & United Breweries donated it to the Playbox Theatre permanently.
Years of fundraising and renovations lead to The CUB Malthouse theatre launching in 1990, renamed Cooopers Malthouse in 2014.
Within the Malthouse, three theatres operate along with a cafe, bar, rehearsal studios and offices. The Merlyn Theatre seats 500, while the Beckett seats 175 and the Tower Theatre 100. Drama, contemporary opera, cabaret and dance are all on the menu at Malthouse, with international collaborations regularly taking place.
Chapel Off Chapel
The chapel that is the namesake of Chapel off Chapel is one of Melbourne’s oldest churches, located in the now creative and cosmopolitan suburb of Prahran. It was built in 1858 as an independent bluestone church. In 1980 the council bought the building and after extensive renovations, the church and hall buildings were opened as the Princes Gardens Recreation Centre.
It wasn’t until 1994 that a linking building was established between the church and church hall to house Chapel Off Chapel, an arts and recreation centre belonging to the City of Stonnington. Since its official opening in March 1995, the venue has hosted gallery shows, theatre performances, dance and cabaret.
Originally a cinema theatre, the iconic Regent Theatre near the top of Collins Street was one of the first cinema venues in Melbourne.
Opened in 1929, the Rococo interior embodied the spirit of the celebrated New York Capitol Theatre. Two venues operated – the 3500 seat Regent Theatre and the downstairs Plaza Ballroom (though this operated as a cinema due to unsuccessful attempts to obtain a liquor licence).
Listed for heritage protection in 1979, it wasn’t until 1990 that David Marriner convinced Melbourne City Council to allow him to refurbish and redevelop the site, honouring its past. It now houses the Theatre, Plaza Ballroom and plays host to galas, charity dinners, fashion shows and film screenings.
Spoilt for choice
These are a few of many wonderful theatre spaces in Melbourne. From Carlton’s La Mama through to Red Stitch and Theatreworks in the bayside region, and the Forum, Princess and Athaneum theatres – locals and visitors are spoilt for choice in regards to their on-stage performances, but also for the unique and diverse design of the buildings.