Princess Theatre (Brisbane)

The Princess Theatre today is Brisbane’s only surviving colonial theatre.  John B. Nicholson was the architect.  It is located at 8 Annerley Road [1] , Woolloongabba.  Built in 1888, the initial public announcement of the theatre advised that it would be an appropriate venue for musical and theatrical performances as well as for balls, meetings, lectures (Australian Builders’ and Contractors’ News 12 May 1888: 303).  The architectural design adhered to a Renaissance style with the front being 66ft wide and “ornamented with Ionic and Doric pilasters, fluted and heavily moulded” (Australian Builders’ and Contractors’ News 12 May 1888: 303).  The main entrance was flanked by two shop-fronts, the box office was immediately inside the door and a large staircase led up to the Dress Circle.  The auditorium measured 52ft by 70ft with a seating capacity of 700 while the stage was 52ft by 45ft (Australian Builders’ and Contractors’ News 12 May 1888: 303).  Six dressing rooms were situated under the stage.  “The stage, which will be more commodious than the stage of either the Gaiety Theatre or the Theatre Royal, will be fitted up with fly galleries and a painting stage” (Australian Builders’ and Contractors’ News 12 May 1888: 303).  The tender notice stipulated that circulation of fresh air would be provided for by a large ventilator in the auditorium (32ft x 15ft), a smaller one over the stage (16ft x 23ft), and 18 ventilators on the side walls (Australian Builders’ and Contractors’ News 12 May 1888: 303).  However, Heather Jones notes that the large ventilation unit was never installed (Jones 185). 

When it opened on 6 April 1889, the theatre was known as the South Brisbane Public Hall, and it experienced many name changes throughout its first decade; including the Boggo Road Hall, the New Theatre Royal, and the Boggo Road Theatre, before being named the Princess Theatre in 1894 (Treading the Boards 31).  In 1899 the Princess was sold to Thomas Finney who turned it into a clothing factory; Finney, however, did allow the Princess to be used for sporadic performances.  John Burke Dent took control of the theatre in 1912 and this marked the beginning of the Princess’ life as a picture theatre; being wired for sound in the late 1920s (Jones 185).  Some of Brisbane’s burgeoning little theatre companies performed in the Princess during the 1930s. 

The Entertainment Unit of the American Armed Forces took possession of the Princess during World War II and used it for rehearsals and for administrative purposes (Treading the Boards 31).  Three different companies rehearsed there during the War (Notes, reverse of JOL Photograph No: 104874).  After the war many different community groups used the Princess for various performance activities; this included concerts and ballet performances, as well as meetings of sporting and scout groups (Notes, reverse of JOL Photograph No: 104872).  The last live performance at the Princess took place in 1948 with the theatre being used for a variety of non-theatre related purposes until the mid 1980s; at different times it was a paper warehouse, a bookbindery, the base for an engineering firm, and a second-hand furniture shop (Treading the Boards 31).  One of the shops was leased by the Liberal Party from 1948 until 1977 (Jones 187).  The Princess was refurbished to accommodate live performance once again and it became the home of TN! [2] until the company folded in 1991.  The theatre was sold in 1992 for $451,000 (Treading the Boards 32).  Since then various companies, usually profit-share organisations, have worked in the theatre which is available for hire.

[1] The street was called Boggo Road when the Princess Theatre was initially built.

[2] TN! was the name given to Twelfth Night Theatre when it became a professional company and wanted to distinguish itself from the theatre of the same name at Bowen Hills which they had to vacate.