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At a time when serious theatre was renewing itself in smaller and smaller venues, the Music Hall Theatre Restaurant offered actors a rare opportunity to battle with an audience from the footlights on an almost Shakespearean scale. In its heyday the Music Hall was a red plush affair with stalls and a gallery seating 500 at tables covered with red-checked cloths, and a foyer crammed with Victorian bric-a-brac. Moustachioed waiters in Edwardian waistcoats would serve the hearty patrons while the genial George and Lorna Miller, moved among them, playing violin and accordion. At 8.30 p.m. the musical director, Don Harvie, would begin the overture at the piano and the velvet curtain would rise upon an extravagant setting and an absurdly complicated plot. The audience might choose to attend to it or not. It was a challenge for any actor.
The Millers opened the Music Hall in 1961 with the melodrama East Lynne, which they had produced successfully at the Bowl Music Hall in Melbourne. The new Sydney production starred Barry Creyton. The early shows were rough affairs. The villain had to learn to duck not only bread rolls but spoons and other missiles. But it was secure work and as the Music Hall's reputation grew and seasons extended to a year or more, many well-known performers learned new skills there. David Atkins, Pat Bishop, Neva Carr Glyn, Beryl Cheers, Linda Cropper, Ron Haddrick, Alexander Hay, Sheila Kennelly, Frank Lloyd and John Unicomb were among them.
Barry Lovett, a versatile actor, was the much-loved master clown; he spent ten years with the company Alton Harvey was the longest-running villain. The designs, created by opera designers like Tom Lingwood, became more extravagant year by year.
The mood gradually changed after John Faassen, an actor and singer, took over as director in 1966 and began writing his own shows. The plays became more sophisticated burlesques of musical and dramatic genres, particularly opera. By 1968 nationalism was making its mark. Her Only Mistake was the first show set in colonial Australia. Stanley Walsh replaced Faassen in 1970 and his first show, The Trials of Hilary Pouncefortt, tapped the new preoccupation with Australian history. It was a melodrama, critical of military authority, set in colonial Sydney in 1850. Walsh in turn was succeeded by Michael Boddy as director and resident playwright. He mounted two successful shows in 1977-78 but when he retired in 1979 the Music Hall returned to revivals. It had run out of energy by 1980, when, despite protests by loyal supporters, it closed after a two-year battle with the local council and the state government over fire safety.
|Title||Music Hall Theatre Restaurant|
|Source||Philip Parsons, Victoria Chance, Companion To Theatre In Australia, Currency Press with Cambridge University Press, Sydney, NSW, 1995|
|Citation||Katharine Brisbane, Music Hall Theatre Restaurant, Companion To Theatre In Australia, 380|