Her Majesty’s Theatre/ His Majesty’s Theatre (Brisbane)

Her Majesty’s Theatre [1] originally opened on 2 April 1888 as Her Imperial Majesty’s Opera House at 193 Queen Street, in the block between Albert and Edwards Streets.  It changed its name after the death of Queen Victoria to His Majesty’s Theatre on 23 March 1901, a name which it kept throughout the reign of the three Kings and even through some of Queen Elizabeth’s reign, eventually being renamed Her Majesty’s Theatre.  The building consisted of three floors and it was 66ft wide and 248ft deep and sported a stage which was 60ft by 63ft (Dictionary of the Australian Theatre 55). 

Her Majesty’s Theatre earned the distinction of being “the first in Brisbane to present an attractive façade as well as interior” (Dictionary of the Australian Theatre 55).  The façade was a combination of Italian Renaissance architecture and Corinthian styles.  Her Majesty’s Theatre was the theatre for the socially elite in Brisbane; the Brisbane Courier’s daily women’s column entitled “Woman’s World” indicates that the standard dress code for audiences was formal evening attire.  The architects for the Opera House were Stombuco and Son, the builders were O’Keefe and Company, and James Lang and Company undertook the decorations.  According to Piero Giori, Stombuco’s original design for the building was created in 1885 (57).  The front of the building was architecturally designed to incorporate a combination of Corinthian and Renaissance styles which extended for 66ft along Queen Street (Builder and Contractor’s News 31 Mar. 1888: 211). 

A hotel was also included within the basic design of the building.  The main entrance to the theatre was between two shops: “one of these shops the lessee intends to make use of as the public bar of the hotel, and the other will probably be fitted up as a first-class tobacconists” (Builder and Contractor’s News 31 Mar. 1888: 211).  Patrons seated in the stalls and the pit would pass through a tiled foyer which was ornamented with “a fountain with two basins, one supported by satyrs, and the other by female figures” (Builder and Contractor’s News 31 Mar. 1888: 211).  The ceiling of the auditorium was decorated with an intricate design of cornices.  “The cornices are ornamented in the styles known as “egg and dart,” and chain and bead,” [sic.] the whole set off with “dentals”” (Builder and Contractor’s News 31 Mar. 1888: 211).  Each 10ft square cornice was decorated with a central floral design incorporating the rose, shamrock and thistle and the colour scheme included green, salmon, blue, and gold.  The stage was flanked by two pillars “supporting a pediment, in plaster of paris, which will be picked out in gold and colours” (Builder and Contractor’s News 31 Mar. 1888: 211).  The pit housed almost 700 people and the stalls could fit 550.  A further 400 people could sit in the Dress Circle which was accessed by its own entrance and staircase on the left side of the building, while the stair case on the right side of the building permitted access to the Family Circle for 600 people (Builder and Contractor’s News 31 Mar. 1888: 211). 

The seats in the Dress Circle were covered in maroon velvet to match the stage curtain and wooden chairs were found in the stalls.  The stage was 60ft by 63ft  “A special feature in connection with the scenery and stage fittings is that asbestos fire-proof paint has been used wherever possible, thus considerably reducing the risk from fire” (Builder and Contractor’s News 31 Mar. 1888: 211).  The ventilation system included in the original design forced air through earthenware pipes which had ornamental openings.  The roof was specially designed to help the hot air to escape (Giorgi 58).  In 1901 the job of creating a sliding roof for the theatre was given to the architect, William Pitt (Companion to Theatre in Australia 269). 

The Architecture and Building Journal of Queensland reported in 1928 that extensive remodelling of His Majesty’s would take place (10 Aug. 1928: 60).  After the theatre was rebuilt in 1929 it opened on the 30 March with a seating capacity of 1387.  This refurbishment also included the removal of the gallery and dress circle and the installation of a new dress circle.  Further cosmetic renovations occurred in 1941. His Majesty’s was the largest theatre in Brisbane and it hosted most of the productions by professional touring companies throughout its 95 year history; J.C. Williamson’s company held the lease on the theatre for more than 80 years (Sunday Mail 12 May 1978: 12).  Her Majesty’s was sold to the A.M.P. Society for $3 million in 1973.  “The property has been owned by the family of Mr. Byrne Hart, of Gerald Street, Ascot, a chartered account and company director, since before 1850” (Courier-Mail 28 June 1973).  Despite community protest, the Kern Corporation demolished it on 23 October 1983 and the Hilton Hotel and Wintergarden Shopping Centre were built on the site.  The Kern Corporation caused a Union ban on construction at the site because, despite assurances that the façade of the colonial theatre would be kept as part of the new building, the entire building was destroyed.

[1] The following photographs of Her/His Majesty’s Theatre can be found in the John Oxley Library:

·       Her Majesty’s Theatre with a poster for Pattie Browne, c.1898 (No. 17958).
·       Black and White Interior, c.1976 (No. 61296).
·       Colour Interior, Oct. 1983 (No. 140325).
·       Entrance from Elizabeth Street (No. 117719).
·       Booking Plans for the Dress Circle (No. 117704) and Stalls (No. 117705).