Sydney Architecture Images- Gone but not forgotten

ROYAL STANDARD aka Empire / Clay’s Standard / Little Theatre and The Playhouse




Castlereagh Street south of Bathurst Street.


Built-  1886  Demolished- 1923


Victorian Italianate


Rendered brick Stone


Summary Built for the Royal Order of Foresters, the Royal Standard was a 1000-seat theatre. Its first lessee, Frank Smith, opened with a season of drama by Alfred Dampier’s company, and over the next four decades it hosted numerous amateur and “legitimate” theatricals (including Alfred Hill’s 1917 comic opera The Raja of Shivapore) as well as vaudeville shows. During its lifetime the theatre was known variously as the Empire (1901-02), Clay’s Standard (1908-13), the Little Theatre (1913-16) and the Playhouse (1917-23). It was demolished in 1923.


The Royal Foresters' Lodge was in Castlereagh Street south of Bathurst Street. The hall was in a two storey building, to which a third floor was later added, behind a facade surmounted by a large stone pediment carved with the foliage and arms of the Foresters' Lodge. The hall was ninety nine feet long, eighty six and a half feet wide and had a stage thirty six feet wide and twenty five deep. It was converted to a theatre in 1886 with a seating capacity of around one thousand people, and opened on 8 May as the ROYAL STANDARD THEATRE.

The Royal Standard was gas lit, had a dress circle and a ground floor, which had a slight slope, divided into stalls and a pit. The seating was on iron tip-up chairs in the pit, while those of circle and front stalls were upholstered in crimson velvet. The stage had a proscenium arch made of wood and canvas, with an act drop featuring the popular image of an Italian lake scene.

In its life of about thirty years, the Royal Standard had numerous redecorations and renovations, and it was used for a wide range of performances, including melodrama, vaudeville and repertory seasons. Among its lessees were Frank Smith and Alfred Dampier, and in September 1891 it was the scene of the most unsuccessful premiere of Edmund Duggan's first play, `The Democrat'. In 1902 it was the first theatre leased in Australia by the New Zealand based entrepreneurs John Fuller & Sons, who renamed it FULLER'S EMPIRE VAUDEVILLE THEATRE and opened with the Empire Minstrel and Variety Company. In November 1906 Harry Clay's vaudeville company was occupying the building, calling it the STANDARD THEATRE.

In 1913 Hugh Buckler and his wife Violet Paget refurbished the building, renamed it the LITTLE THEATRE, and installed their professional company with a repertoire of high-class contemporary plays, including Pinero and Shaw. The theatre as they modified it had what Ross Thorne calls `an almost domestic quality'. It was a plain setting, decorated with potted plants and photographs, and there was a coffee lounge installed beneath the stage.

The company was to an extent a victim of international events, for war disrupted their progress. They had successful productions, and toured extensively, but when Buckler, who was much admired as a matinee idol, enlisted in the military, the company struggled to survive without him. The Little Theatre closed in 1915. The theatre did reopen as the PLAYHOUSE in 1917, but around 1923 the building was then demolished.


E. Irvin, Dictionary of the Theatre in Australia 1788-1914 (Sydney, Hale & Iremonger, 1985)
P. Parsons (ed.) with V. Chance, Companion to Theatre in Australia (Sydney, Currency Press, 1995)
R. Thorne, Theatre Buildings in Australia to 1905, 2 vols. (Sydney, Architectural Research Foundation, University of Sydney, 1971)
M. Williams, Australia on the Popular Stage 1829-1929 (Melbourne, Oxford University Press, 1983)