Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Mystery Photo I - Revealed

Congratulations to Twitterers Glebe2037 and Portek, and the blogger Stubborn Mule for correctly identifying the first Mystery Photo as the old Majestic Theatre on the corner of Wilson St and Erskineville Road. The picture from the Register of the National Estate captures the destruction of the Majestic Theatre (later Elizabethan Theatre) in 1980.

Not so majestic today

The Majestic Theatre had quite a history. It was built in 1917 by the Fuller family, had a capacity of 1642 (roughly) and was a popular venue for variety shows and weekly melodramas. According to Alan Sharpe in his Pictorial History of Newtown: "In the late 1920s a season of Shakespeare opened to the guffaws from residents of other suburbs but it ran for 16 weeks."

It switched to movies with the arrival of 'talkies' in 1928, and was the location of a John Curtin inspired labor party 'Unity Conference' in the late 30s. After brief wartime service as a military showroom, the Theatre came of age in 1955 as The Elizabethan, home of Australia's first national theatre company, the Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust. Among many others, The Elizabethan was the scene of the Sydney debut of Ray Lawler's Summer of the Seventeenth Doll in 1955, and Doug Stewart's Ned Kelly, starring a young Leo McKern and with set design by a certain Sidney Nolan, in 1956.

However, the location of the Elizabethan, off the beaten track in a working class suburb, put it at a disadvantage, and shows were less and less well attended. Amazingly there was little protest when the Theatre suspiciously burnt down in January 1980.

There are some more photos of the insides of the theatre here and here - I'm waiting for permission to publish them directly. There is also a collection of posters of performances at the Elizabethan at the Powerhouse Museum.


  1. w00t! Do I win a prize? Keys to Newtown perhaps?

  2. A year's free subscription was the prize - just click on the red symbol in the address bar to collect. Only the Mayor can have the keys to the city :)

    No offence - but the mayor has removed your winning comment from the previous blog so that newcomers could have a go at guessing for a couple more days. Not due to the foul language used. If he knows his blogger well enough, it can be reinstated in due course !

  3. wow! if only the Majestic had survived a decade or so longer we would no doubt have it up n running nowadays with live theatre n movies etc!

  4. by the way here is a link to the State Library archive of the Majestic interior


  5. Doesn't anyone have photos of the outside of the Elizabethan Theatre?