The city of Sydney needs a new theatre.
In fact the city of Sydney needs several new theatres – and while it’s a fact that appears known, it remains something about which little is being done. Decades after the period where well over a dozen 1000+ seater theatres and picture palaces stood between Her Majesty’s in Haymarket and the State on Market Street, and twenty-five years beyond the day when the beautiful (and sorely missed) Regent Theatre on George and Bathurst was demolished, we are badly in need of a new 1,200 seater theatre. Add to that the obvious demand for theatres (plural!) that seat somewhere around the 500 mark, AND the need for a main-stage Repertory music theatre company (similar to what Melbourne have in The Production Company) and there you have our cultural woes clearly defined. Or so I will claim them to be.
But even as we search for new houses to embody the lyrics of Sondheim and give residency to the ghostly voices of Shakespeare and the snap and crackle of Williams and Wilde and Kushner, in England last week, archaeologists announced dazzling evidence that the quest for the right house for your show truly has been on-going.
A two-thousand year old Roman amphitheatre has been uncovered in Faversham, Kent. The constant provision of “bread and circuses” is a well-known element of life in the ancient Roman world. And it remains in memoriam: represented in bricks and mortar across northern Europe – there are over 150, some still in use! But this is the first discovery of its kind, and size, in the UK.
Don’t let the word amphitheatre fool you. This was no mere Shakespeare in the park. The Faversham auditorium was 65 metres in diameter and sat up to 12,000 people! Its stage possesses holes and channels thought to be there to allow flooding for aquatic displays. Oh yes – the Romans new how to put on a show. It’s known that some Roman theatres were equipped with revolving stages and cranes specifically designed to hoist performers skyward! Two thousand years ago they could have staged Wicked for 12,000 people and not batted an eyelid!
It’s incredible to think that even then, people queued up to see the latest arena spectacular in the way I plan on queuing (this year? Next year?) for Jesus Christ Superstar! And that natural acoustics provided the amplification – and today All-Phones Arena can’t even get the sound right for a Mariah Carey concert!
It’s genuinely mind-blowing to think that even then people must have auditioned for shows – dreamed about playing in the great arenas and worried about what would happen when the show closed until the next casting call.
While Faversham may be a long way from the Sydney Opera House, and its Roman arena shows far removed from the pyrotechnics of ‘Defying Gravity’ and ‘Gethsemene’, it’s still good to have a reminder now and then that the culture of the theatre (and everything that comes with it) truly has been part of life for time immemorial. And while we can never truly know what shows at Faversham were like, it was a theatre – even two thousand years later that speaks for itself.
With this sentiment of the enduring power, passion and artistry that theatres embody, Sydney – we could do with a few new ones! And while I’m asking, a revival of Gypsy also couldn’t hurt! Caroline O’Connor could play Momma Rose… or maybe Debra Byrne? Either way, get cracking! We have a rich and glorious history to uphold!