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Best Theatres Melbourne

Home > Melbourne > Theatre
by Lisa Williams (subscribe)
Freelance journalist? Guilty. Adventure, food, people and performing are my passions.
Published May 16th 2011
There's nothing quite like a night at the theatre, and Melbourne is home to an arts scene rich in history and diversity.

From comedy, to live theatre, movies, musicals, and bands, there are many options for a night of entertainment, and many beautiful buildings to host you.

Check out these theatres next time you're catching up with friends or treating that special someone to a night out:

The Arts Centre Spire
The Arts Centre Spire, courtesy of The Arts Centre

The Arts Centre

You really can't miss The Arts Centre, with its 162 metre spire flagging the complex on St Kilda Road. It is well recognised as a cultural, creative hub in Melbourne, and has set the standard very high with its calibre of entertainment.

Its many spaces have, and continue to house live theatre, dance, music, opera and ballet. The Centre's State Theatre boasts one of the largest stages in the world, and its ceiling is decorated by 75, 000 tiny brass domes, for incredible acoustics.

Sidney Myer Music Bowl in the Kings Domain, also part of The Arts Centre, regularly hosts major concerts and festivals, including Carols by Candlelight.

The centre is also home to an impressive Performing Arts Collection, comprised of over 400, 000 items including costumes, accessories, props and posters relating to the history of the performing arts. Artworks by renowned artists Arthur Boyd, Sidney Nolan, John Olsen and Jeffrey Smart are also showcased in and around the centre, all inspired by the performing arts in its many forms.

Click here to view a map.

CUB Malthouse

Located in the bustling Southbank arts precinct, the CUB Malthouse is a leading venue for Australian contemporary theatre.

Once a brewing and malting facility, the site was donated in 1986 by Carlton and United Breweries, and is now home to the Malthouse Theatre company.

Committed to educating, developing, and showcasing Australian artists, you can expect a diverse collection of performances from Malthouse Theatre. Numerous events by prestigious organisations like Bell Shakespeare and the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra are also staged here. Expect an equally diverse culture and class of audience.

With a bar, cafe and bookshop also on site, making a day of your trip to the theatre is easy.

Click here to view a map.

Princess Theatre

The Princess Theatre is without a doubt one of Melbourne's most popular theatres, both for its icon of class and grandeur, and history of staging grand box office hits.

Some of the world's most successful musicals have been housed here, including The Phantom of the Opera, Cats, Les Miserables, Muma Mia!, The Producers, and Hairspray.

Although renovated and updated, the theatre, built in 1886, has maintained its impressive early detail; Its electric lightbulb canopy has been the welcoming arc of the theatre for over a century.

And what would a grand old theatre be without a resident ghost? Frederick Baker (Federici), suffered a major heart attack and died at the theatre after a performance of the opera Faust. Many staff have reported sightings of the friendly ghost over the years.

Click here to view a map.

Regent Theatre

Opened in 1929 during the depression, the Regent Theatre offered Melburnians an escape to the glamour and fantasy of Hollywood for the price of a movie ticket; Its intricate interior inspired by The New York Capitol Theatre, considered to the most lavish in the world at the time.

The theatre was known as the 'Palace of the People', staging live theatre and entertainment upstairs in the 3500 seat auditorium, and screening films in the Plaza Ballroom downstairs.

Closed for a significant period due to the popularity of television in the 1960s, the The Regent Theatre reopened in 1996 with as much grandeur as its early days. More recently it has staged major productions Disney's The Lion King, Singin' in the Rain, and We Will Rock You.

Shine your shoes for this gem. You'll feel out of place in anything less than dressy.

Click here to view a map.

Her Majesty's Theatre

Her Majesty's is certainly one of Melbourne's oldest and most loved theatres. And at 125 years, the old girl has certainly undergone a few facelifts, from 19th century glam, to modern Art Deco.

Originally named the Alexandra, after the then Princess of Wales, the theatre showcased melodramas, popular with the late 19th century audiences. She was later renamed Her Majesty's Theatre, after Queen Victoria.

Dame Nellie Melba famously commented that the acoustics of the auditorium sounded 'dead', prompting a reworking of the auditorium. She later made her Australian grand opera debut as Violetta in La Traviata at Her Majesty's in 1911.

Other world class performers such as Anna Pavlova and Dame Margot Fonteyn have graced Her Majesty's stage, as well as popular shows Cabaret, and Billy Elliot The Musical.

Click here to view a map.

More Theatres in the CBD

For a night of laughs, check out the Comedy Theatre on Exhibition street, or the Athenaeum Theatre on Collins Street, playing host to the Comedy Club. Both stage well known, and up and coming comedians who will have you in stitches.

Get in on more film and comedy festival action at Capitol Theatre on Swanston Street.

Or sip a drink under the clear blue sky-like ceiling as you rock out to your favourite music at Forum Theatre. Its interior is set up like an outdoor amphitheatre, and adds a balmy summer night, festival feel to any performance.

Two Dancers, by Barry Goyette
Image by Barry Goyette

Theatres in the Suburbs

Clocktower Centre in Moonee Ponds is a community based theatre, guaranteed to have something for the family to enjoy, while La Mama in Carlton is an intimate scene, seating only 50. Showcasing Australian productions weekly, grab a coffee and chat with the cast and crew after the show.

In the summer months, spread out a rug at the Royal Botanical Gardens for the Moonlight Cinema.

Or if you're under 25 and wanting to get a little more hands on, St Martins in South Yarra is a performing arts centre for youth, with training programs available, and regular performances showing.

St Kilda is home to a couple of great venues, including Palais Theatre, renowned for its high calibre musical acts, Theatre Works, focusing on independent theatre, and National Theatre, with a strong history in ballet and drama.

And a little further around the Bay, Brighton Theatre Company stages four shows a year, by both Australian and international authors. The Frankston Arts Centre is also a constant hub of activity, with performances from high end touring groups and local companies, as well as workshops in the performing arts, such as dance and circus.
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Why? For a night of entertainment
When: When you want to be entertained
Where: Melbourne CBD
Cost: $20 - $200 depending on what you want to see
I really enjoy the theatre but don't get there nearly as often as I could... it seems that I am never organised enough! It's so much easier to just drop by the Astor and catch a movie. I did see Mary Poppins and it was fantastic - good article to motivate me to be a better theatre-goer!
By Michaelie Clark - senior reviewer
Sunday, 29th of May @ 09:28 am
Well written Lisa. I love the theatre and the ballet. I dont mind Opera now and then. There are so many good creative minds that produce some fantastic work.
By Jody Kimber - senior reviewer
Tuesday, 30th of August @ 12:39 pm
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