Dictionary of Sydney

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National Amphitheatre

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National Amphitheatre

This venue, situated on the western side of Castlereagh Street near to but south of King Street, started life in 1902 as the premises of the National Sporting Club. It was a large hall seating about 2,000 people used for boxing and other athletic entertainments. James Brennan, its sole proprietor, then converted it to a variety house, and named it the National Amphitheatre. It opened on 26 December 1906 – Boxing Night – with the Charles and Will Bovis Mammoth Entertainers.

This conversion to a theatre was, however, only a basic change. A stage with proscenium arch was built, and stalls seating fitted where the boxing ring had been. The rest of the house seating was benches rising to the back wall of the auditorium. It was an arrangement which gave a good view of the stage to the 1,410 people for which it was licenced, although more could be accommodated. Audience comfort, however, was questionable. The stalls seats were padded but the remaining seats were backed but bare benches.

The theatre, popularly known as 'the Nash', was nearly next door to Harry Rickards's Tivoli Theatre, and both provided vaudeville and variety entertainment. The content of the Nash's shows was considered to be of a slightly lower standard than that provided by its rival Tivoli. Rickards's theatre featured distinguished overseas performers, while the National Amphitheatre boasted 'Australian Artists and Prices for Australian Peoples', with seat prices ranging from sixpence to one shilling and sixpence.

Brennan developed a successful business from this enterprise, floating a public company in 1911. He also had a working arrangement with the New Zealand-based Fullers' Circuit and soon after this float the ambitions of both organisations coincided. Fullers' was interested in an Australian expansion, and in 1912 the companies amalgamated into the Brennan–Fullers' Vaudeville Circuit, operating, among other theatres, the National Amphitheatre. The business arrangement lasted until the end of World War I.

Although in 1912 the state licensing authorities had considered the National Amphitheatre 'antiquated and dangerous', both bureaucracy and World War I got in the way of any action. [1] Plans for rebuilding were not approved until September 1918, but then Fullers' extensively renovated the theatre. The architect Harry E White converted the amphitheatre to a two-level theatre, with stage boxes on two levels, and a shallow fly-tower stage. Brennan's association apparently ended at this time as his name slipped from sight in the newly re-named Fullers' National Theatre which opened in March 1919.

This venue was a popular vaudeville theatre in the 1920s, featuring star local performers including Fullers' stalwarts Fred Bluett, Mike Connors and Queenie Paul, and Stiffy and Mo (Nat Phillips and Roy Rene). By the early 1930s, however, a combination of legislation, fashion, economic depression and the popularity of film led to the end of both the Fullers' circuit and the 'Nash'. It closed its doors on 24 February 1930 and after a rapid redecoration reopened, four days later, as the Roxy cinema. There was a brief return to variety in February 1932 but by the end of that year Fullers' Theatres Ltd refurbished the venue in Art Deco style, renamed it the Mayfair cinema and adopted a policy of showing British films.

Hoyts Theatres later bought the Mayfair. In the late 1970s the theatre was again used for live presentations, including a revival of the rock musical Godspell and Peter Williams's production of Crown Matrimonial starring June Salter and John Hamblin. There were hopes that the theatre could continue with live presentation but government support was not forthcoming. In 1980 the foyer and dress circle stairs were converted to shops in a quasi-arcade, and in 1984 the building was demolished for commercial redevelopment.


Eric Irvin, Dictionary of the Australian Theatre, Hale & Iremonger, Sydney, 1985, p 293

John West, Theatre in Australia, Cassell, Stanmore, 1978, p 99

Philip Parsons, (gen ed) with Victoria Chance, Companion to Theatre in Australia, Currency Press in association with Cambridge University Press, Paddington NSW, 1995


[1] Ross Thorne, 'Fullers' National Theatre', Philip Parsons, (gen ed) with Victoria Chance, Companion to Theatre in Australia, Currency Press in association with Cambridge University Press, Paddington NSW, 1995, p 239