Palais Theatre returning to its original glory

30 Nov 2019

A $26 million restoration project is revitalising every aspect of the Palais Theatre while preserving its marvellous history. It is delivering an enhanced experience for audiences and even better acoustics for opera performances.

Palais Theatre at night. Photo courtesy of Palais Theatre.

Opened as a movie theatre in 1927, Palais Theatre has hosted everything from ballet to rock concerts. Another Palais Pictures had been built in 1925 but unfortunately burned down soon after completion. The building that stands there today was constructed in just 18 months.

Designed by Henry E. White in the ‘atmospheric theatre’ style that was popular in American movie palaces at the time, the interior blends iconic elements from different cultures and eras.  As they enter the theatre, visitors are transported from their everyday lives to an exotic and fantastical world.

This ornate style can be seen throughout the Palais: Roman columns; Louis XIV ‘Sun King’ heads on the ends of staircase bannisters; Chinoiserie carpet; faux windows in the auditorium mimicking the Palace of Versailles Hall of Mirrors; and the copper walls evoking a Moroccan sunrise.

Ornate details of Palais Theatre. Clockwise from top left: Roman columns; Chinoiserie carpet; wall evoking Moroccan sunrise; Louis XIV 'Sun King' head. Photography: Beata Bowes

The façade has been repainted in its original sandy yellow colour, perfect for its beachside location. The colour is more vivid than ever before because in the 1920s the prohibitive cost of paint meant that the effect had to be created by putting oxide over plaster.

After being trod on for 90 years, the theatre’s floors and carpet were in desperate need of updating. To preserve the carpet design, a square was sent to London where it was discovered that they had the original patterns allowing the carpet to be recreated in the Indian subcontinent. The Italian marble floors have also been restored. Although the original quarry in Italy had shut down, conveniently a neighbouring quarry was able to match the marble for the restoration.

The front dome in the auditorium is made of plaster and horsehair backed by tin which helps produce the outstanding acoustics. Using a new technique, 70 years of nicotine and tar stains have been cleaned from the dome which, along with the acoustic foam used to fill in the dome behind the new bar, further improves the sound quality.

Palais Theatre domes before, during and after restoration. Photography courtesy of Palais Theatre.

On the ground floor, there is a new candy bar selling sandwiches and snacks, and a dedicated coffee stall for those cold winter nights. Upstairs is a new permanent full-sized bar area with tap beer that makes it quicker and easier to get drinks before the show and at interval. There is a new enclosed ‘Winter Garden’ balcony area with stunning views of Luna Park that dazzle when lit up at night.

Accessibility for the venue has been greatly improved. New features include a lift from the street to Level 1, disabled toilet and accessible seating on Level 1 with superb views.

The seats at the Palais Theatre are heritage listed so restoration of these is not a simple task. Over the next few years, they will be removed 20 at a time to be repaired, re-stuffed and reupholstered. The historic heated footrests will be retained.

Other future plans include installation of air-conditioning and an upgrade of all toilet facilities.

Palais Theatre is Australia’s biggest seated theatre and the ideal venue for watching opera. Its raked stage, especially designed for opera to provide views of the chorus, is one of the last left in the country. So, take a trip to the atmospheric Palais Theatre and immerse yourself in its majestic charm which has been beautifully restored to live on for future generations.

Palais Theatre auditorium. Photo courtesy of Palais Theatre.

Victorian Opera performs The Sleeping Beauty on 20-26 February at Palais Theatre.