Scale model with storage case, The Royal Victoria Theatre, Pitt Street Sydney - 1838-1880, wood / metal / plastic / paper / nylon, made by the University of Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, 1990
Colonial Australians were not the best keepers of theatre related records. Those that can be found are scant on historically useful fact, or even contradictory. The work of Theatre Historian Ross Thorne, English Professor Elizabeth Webby, and staff and students at the University of Sydney, however, has given us - in the case of the Royal Victorian Theatre, Sydney - a vivid insight into 19th century Australian colonial theatre.
Through the detailed research of Ross Thorne, Professor Webby, and staff and students of the University of Sydney, several projects were realised which vividly illustrate the architecture, scene changing and lighting, society and performance which made up the Royal Victoria Theatre. This model, which is a highly detailed and working replica of the Royal Victoria in the 1840s, was used to show the interior decoration, design and stage workings of the theatre in two documentaries produced by the University of Sydney. In the second documentary 'The Royal Victoria Theatre, Sydney 1838 - 1880', actors also studied and recreated in the melodramatic style of the mid 1800s a performance of 'Othello' which was then superimposed on the model's stage.
The Royal Victoria Theatre was built in 1838 at Pitt Street in Sydney, after Joseph Wyatt, a successful haberdasher, proposed a Theatre for the colony on New South Wales. Although theatre was well established in the colony, it was performed in makeshift conditions - in hotels or warehouse sites, such as Barnett Levy's Theatre Royal. Though Wyatt's original vision was much grander than the actual built version, The Royal Victoria was a recognisable, dedicated theatre; and one that was contemporary in style and design with regional theatres in England and Europe.
The theatre was a landmark in Sydney, and had a very busy performance schedule and heavy patronage. Because of this, after each season renovations were needed. It is actually through the renovation plans that much of the research for this model and the projects surrounding it was gleaned. It was also, just prior to a major renovation in 1880 that The Royal Victoria Theatre burned down, on 23 May. The Theatre was not rebuilt.
The model is an example of precision model-making using historical research; and also gives us an interesting juxtaposition with contemporary Australian theatre.
The model was made using the research of Ross Thorne, Australian Theatre Historian, and Professor Elizabeth Webby of the University of Sydney, by students at the University of Sydney for a documentary produced for the departments of Architecture, English and Performance Studies in 1990.
The model makers were Russell Emerson - coordinator and model electrics, John Dabron, Sarah Gardiner, and Roger Ackland - construction.
The model is a 1/25 scale of the original building.
The documentary that was made using this model was directed by Greg Punch of the university's then Television Service. Sets were also designed and constructed for the documentary by Selcuk Askin and Antonia Pesenti of the Department of Architecture.
This model was made as a cross-faculty project at the University of Sydney in 1990. Initially, the stage was built by John Dabron, a history of architecture student, as part of his course, for a project on scene changing in early Victorian theatre. This project was documented by the University Television Service. The project was then expanded to include a model of the auditorium, and actors recreating the acting style of the time. All this was done using the research of Theatre Historian Ross Thorne, and English Professor Elizabeth Webby.
The documentary was produced, though internal conflict within the university meant that the video did not meet its full potential as either a research and educational tool, or a commercial product. The University Television Service was closed down in 1992.
Ross Thorne rescued the masters, and had the documentary edited and transferred to digital format.
The model itself was donated to the Powerhouse Museum in 2010.