His Majesty’s Theatre is located on the corner of King and Hay Street in Perth, Western Australia. The theatre was built for Thomas G Molloy, who was a Perth businessman (real estate) and one-time Lord Mayor of Perth. The theatre was named after King Edward VII, the reigning British monarch of the time.
His Majesty’s Theatre began construction in 1902 and was completed in 1904. The theatre was designed by American architect, William Wolfe. Wolfe based his design on 19th century theatres of England and Europe and it stands as a fine example of Edwardian era architecture. William Wolfe was born in New York City and trained as an architect in Germany. In 1877, Wolfe migrated to Australia and began working in Sydney and Melbourne before settling in Perth, during the 1890’s. Wolfe was also responsible for the design of the McNess Royal Arcade located in the Hay Street Mall.
Construction of the theatre commenced in 1902 by contractor Gustav Liebe and it took two years to completed. Liebe was also responsible for the construction of the Queens Hall, the Public Art Gallery and the Peninsula Hotel .
His Majesty’s Theatre was built during the State’s Gold Rush boom and was Australia’s first steel and concrete building. The theatre’s four storey facade consisted of two tiers of balconies built in the Doric Order. The top floor windows had balconettes attached. In 1947 the balconies were removed due to the pillars being considered a potential traffic hazard. The exterior also features pilasters, garlands, pediments and crouching lions. The interior of the main entrance included a marble staircase.
The theatre allowed seating for 2,584 people in its three tiers. The horseshoe auditorium was of Italian style and was designed to allow for better acoustics and an uninterrupted view of the stage. The auditorium at one stage featured four artificial waterfalls.
The dome roof was designed to slide open (revealing the night sky) and was used on warm nights to improve ventilation. The hand operated dome roof opened both ways from a central dividing line. Unfortunately the dome no longer slides open. The theatre also included a hotel.
Who Graced the Stage?
The theatre was officially opened on Christmas Eve, 1904 with a performance of “Ali Baba and the The Forty Thieves”. Dame Nellie Melba, Anna Pavlova, Dame Margot Fonteyn, Sir Robert Helpmann, Katharine Hepburn, Sir John Gielgud, Claudette Colbert , Rex Harrison James Earl Jones and Angela Lansbury are but a few of the performers who have graced the stage at His Majesty’s Theatre.
Things You May Not Know About His Majesty’s Theatre
Outside His Majesty’s was where the one and only Percy Buttons would perform his street acts while patrons queued for tickets to the theatre. His show usually started with a series of backflips.
The theatre became a cinema during World War II and then was privately owned by a succession of entrepreneurs, until 1977, when the state government purchased the building. It was restored and reopened in 1980 and is now under the protection of the National Trust WA. His Majesty’s Theatre is believed to be the only example of an Edwardian Theatre existing in Australia.