Victorian Heritage Register – Statement of Significance

This Statement of Significance was issued by Heritage Victoria.

Her Majesty’s Theatre

199 – 227 Exhibition Street and 84 – 98 Little Bourke Street

Melbourne Victoria

VHR Number
File Number
Year Construction Started
Year Construction Completed
Extent of Registration

Other Listings
Architect / Designer
Architectural Style
Heritage Act Categories
Item Group
Item Category

605234 (1-3)
Melbourne City
To the extent of all buildings and the land as defined by the Heritage Council
Melbourne City Planning Scheme
Barnet, Nahum
Victorian Period (1851 – 1901) Second Empire
Heritage Place
Recreation and Entertainment


What is significant?

Her Majesty’s Theatre was originally designed in 1886 by noted Melbourne architect Nahum Barnet. The theatre was the national flagship of American entrepreneur James C Williamson for nearly 40 years. In 1929 the interior was gutted by fire. Renovations in 1934 were designed by architects C N Hollinshead and Albion Walkley, leading Australian theatre specialists. H Vivian Taylor was employed as a sound consultant to the design. Significant technological advances were incorporated including heating, cooling and humidity control as well as cyclorama lighting effects managed from a central control board made by Siemens but developed by Williamson’s engineer. Within three years of the re-opening the theatre had successfully staged musical comedy, grand opera, Gilbert & Sullivan opera and ballet. It was to become the Melbourne home of the Borovansky Company for 17 years, and was also used for the early seasons of the Australian Ballet and the Elizabethan Trust Opera Company (now the Australian Opera).

How is it significant?

Her Majesty’s Theatre is of historical, social, architectural and technological significance to the State of Victoria.

Why is it significant?

Her Majesty’s Theatre is historically significant as the traditional home of musical comedy in Melbourne. Most of its success was derived from more than one hundred musicals played since 1934, with a line-up to match any other theatre in the world. The theatre is additionally significant for its associations with performers such as Dame Nellie Melba, Anna Pavlova, Eduard Borovansky and Joan Sutherland.

Her Majesty’s Theatre is of social significance for its continuing role in the theatrical life of Victoria and its place at the heart of the entertainment precinct of Melbourne.

Her Majesty’s Theatre is architecturally significant as one of the earliest examples of the European Moderne style surviving in an Australian theatre interior. The styling was significant for heralding the countless Moderne style cinemas which proliferated in the later 1930s. The craftsmanship and detailing in Australian timbers is particularly notable. Externally the Second Empire style established the theatre as a local landmark and represents one of the very early red brick buildings in the city as well as one of the earliest works of the prolific architect Nahum Barnet.

Her Majesty’s Theatre is technologically significant as the first theatre to employ an acoustic consultant. Excellent acoustics were achieved by the extensive use of veneered ply wall cladding. The theatre appears to be the first to provide air conditioning for a large interior in Victoria and the first in the state to achieve theatrical lighting effects on a cyclorama from a compact control board.