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Feature: Crowning achievement

Feature: Crowning achievement
Image courtesy of Chris Oaten

Feature: Crowning achievement

Having survived prohibition, an unsympathetic 1970s’ renovation and two pandemics, Her Majesty’s Theatre Adelaide is back in the spotlight, with an Adamson system as one of her many new splendours. Caroline Moss takes a virtual tour

The A$66 million renovation of Her Majesty's Theatre is not only a jewel in the crown for Adelaide, but for all of Australia. Originally constructed and opened in 1913 as the New Tivoli Theatre, the venue was part of the national Tivoli vaudeville circuit, which enjoyed popularity around the country until the advent of television in the 1950s. The only remaining vaudeville theatre in Australia, it was renamed Her Majesty’s Theatre in 1962 before being purchased by the government for the State Opera of South Australia in 1976 and reopened as the Opera Theatre. By 1988, it was once again Her Majesty’s Theatre, a name that has stuck ever since. But the 1970s and 1980s had not been kind to the historic building, with renovation work stripping the theatre of internal heritage features including the grand circle, halving its capacity to 970.

Image courtesy of Chris Oaten
Image courtesy of Chris Oaten

In July 2017, the theatre’s fortunes reversed under the management of the Adelaide Festival Centre Trust, which took a loan from the South Australian Government Financing Authority to fund a major redevelopment. An extra $5 million was raised by a campaign led by the Adelaide Festival Centre Foundation. Work began in April 2018 on a two-year, major redevelopment of the theatre, which was completed and unveiled in June 2020.

Only the theatre’s historic façade and eastern wall were preserved, with everything else redeveloped to create space for a larger venue that now extends across an adjacent plot, purchased as part of the upgrade thanks to donors. This has enabled the stage and auditorium to be enlarged and the grand circle reinstated after almost 60 years, resulting in a 1,467-seat auditorium over three levels. Her Majesty’s Theatre now boasts the widest proscenium arch and deepest fly tower of any commercial Australian theatre and a rehearsal room the same size as the stage. Accessibility has been improved, including stair-free access to all levels and backstage areas and accessible seating throughout.

The theatre redesign was orchestrated by the Adelaide Festival Centre, designed by Cox Architecture and carried out by construction company Hansen Yuncken, managed by the South Australian Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure and the Adelaide Festival Centre Trust. The Melbourne office of theatre planning and lighting design company Schuler Shook was also drafted in to undertake works, including the replanning of the seating rakes to expand capacity by approximately 500 seats, as well as replanning the stage and back of house areas. Schuler Shook consulted on all theatre equipment systems, including AV, stage lighting, rigging and lifts.

The redeveloped theatre interior featuring the reinstated grand circle. Image courtsy of Chris Oaten
The redeveloped theatre interior featuring the reinstated grand circle. Image courtsy of Chris Oaten

“We were hired in late 2017 by Cox Architecture to work with the design team and client to assist with the design of the venue,” says Schuler Shook director, Jim Hultquist. “The design period went through to the end of 2018 and construction started in early 2019.”

The biggest challenge faced by both Shuler Shook and Cox Architecture was to reinstate the theatre’s original capacity, which had been halved with the removal of the grand circle. “The auditorium was originally a three-tier theatre when it opened in 1913, then was renovated in the 1970s to two tiers, and we had to get the seating back to around 1,500 seats – a daunting task given the more modern rules for disabled access,” continues Hultquist. “We worked closely with Cox to reintroduce the third tier of seating to try to achieve 1,500 seats, and made it to 1,467.”

AV systems integrator Diversified, which successfully tendered for the project, also came on board in late 2017, working through the design with the builder to execute the installation scope of works and requirements. “Theatre systems are usually very high end and a highly specified design,” says Nico Van Wieringen, operations manager at Diversified. “For a project like Her Majesty’s Theatre, the pressure is on to deliver the performance and expectations of the stakeholders.”

The rehearsal room is the same size as the stage. Image courtesy of Chris Oaten
The rehearsal room is the same size as the stage. Image courtesy of Chris Oaten

Working via Schuler Shook consultation, Diversified examined potential audio systems with the client, which chose to install an Adamson system to be supplied by the Canadian manufacturer’s Australian distributor, CMI. “Aligning the theatre system design required an electro-acoustic design to be produced. which was then exported as a 3D model and imported into BIM modelling software to get the exact coordinates of all the speakers,” adds Diversified’s senior systems architect, Tim Arrell. “This was essential as the theatre has acoustic timber panelling and aligning with the acoustic treatment is critical to ensure the right acoustic performance across the venue from any seat.

“From an infrastructure perspective, there were a number of systems that needed to integrate across the theatre, overlaying production and live systems when the venue became operational. The theatre system technical cabling infrastructure consists of custom patch panels to allow for audio, lighting, communications and video systems to be plugged in and configured independently per production or event. The infrastructure is another critical backbone that met all best practices across system design and performance. Patch panels have been positioned throughout the theatre using BIM modelling to align with services, theatre panelling and architectural finishes.”

The signature wall has been rebuilt backstage. Image courtesy of Chris Oaten
The signature wall has been rebuilt backstage. Image courtesy of Chris Oaten

Key technical systems integrated into the theatre include a comprehensive technical cabling infrastructure with custom stagebox and patch panels; a custom stage management console housing paging, venue relay monitoring, cue lights and stage intercom systems; and a performance video relay system using venue long view and low light cameras to relay performances to monitors throughout the venue.

CMI supplied a main Adamson system consisting of 18 Adamson S10n and 14 S10 two-way, full-range line array cabinets, with eight Adamson S119 subwoofers. Each left and right array is comprised of nine S10n speakers and three S10s, while the centre array consists of eight S10s. Utilising a combination of narrow and wide S10s ensured Adamson’s mid-range tonal characteristics are consistent across every seat in the house.

CMI used Adamson’s Blueprint AV acoustic prediction software to design the system. Working closely with the Adelaide Festival Centre sound team and Adamson’s application’s team, CMI’s technical sales manager, pro audio, Lee Stevens designed a flexible system to cater for the theatre’s varied programme of productions. “We achieved a 1–2dB variation across the space by using a mixture of the S10 and S10 narrows,” he says. “In theatre, delivering clean, clear, undistorted vocal reproduction and intelligibility is critical to any show. The mid-range depth and precision the Adamson system delivers is stunning.”

Low-frequency reinforcement is handled by eight S119 subwoofers, two installed permanently per side with another four for extra extension when required.

A total of 54 Adamson PC8 point concentric speakers have been provided for a surround system, with 38 PC5 point concentric speakers for delays and front fills. The surround and delay loudspeakers are powered by 23 Lab.gruppen D 40:4L amplifiers with Lake DSP and Dante networking capabilities, providing 92 amp channels and giving every loudspeaker its own one. “By using Lab.Gruppen’s compact 1U four-channel Dante amplifiers, the requirement for every loudspeaker to be individually controlled and accessible became so simple and cost effective,” explains Stevens. Three Adamson E-Racks equipped with Lab.gruppen PLM 20K44 amps are used for the main system, with three Lake LM 44 audio processors for DSP control. Dante signal distribution is handled by six Cisco SG350 managed Gigabit switches, set up to provide Dante primary and secondary audio transport and control. The Cisco switches offer full audio redundancy and the ability to connect from remote locations via VLAN to monitor amplifier health.

“A fantastic outcome has been achieved across all project stakeholders,” says Van Wieringen of the overall redevelopment and upgrade. “When working on a large construction project like this, it is a challenge to coordinate with all the various trades onsite. AV is a discipline that is involved throughout the entire build, but also one of the last disciplines onsite, so you can see the finished spaces as they are handed over to the client. From a technical perspective, all of the systems installed and coordinated are in line with achieving the overall acoustic performance, and meeting the Adelaide Festival Centre’s expectations, aligning with their production systems. All project stakeholders are delighted with the outcome and the public’s response to the opening of the theatre has been overwhelmingly positive.”

Schuler Shook is also very pleased with the outcome in terms of both function and aesthetics. “I think Cox did a fantastic job across the site and I am pleased that through our collaboration were able to expand the seating, increase the stage wings, improve the dressing rooms and other back of house accommodation, and of course bring the theatre systems up to a state-of the-art standard,” concludes Hultquist.

Adamson PC8s form the auditorium's surround system. Image courtesy of Chris Oaten
Adamson PC8s form the auditorium's surround system. Image courtesy of Chris Oaten

The new Her Majesty's Theatre was unveiled in June by Douglas Gautier AM, Adelaide Festival Centre CEO and artistic director. Due to ongoing Covid-19 restrictions operating at that time, a limited number of tickets were made available for small-scale performances of Slingsby Theatre’s family production, The Tragical Life of Cheeseboy, with audience levels capped at 20 per show. As Covid-19 restrictions have eased in South Australia, the theatre has hosted more performances at 50% capacity as well as venue tours. The lucky theatregoers would have been greeted by two curving staircases in the expanded main foyer, alongside Edwardian Art Nouveau features including a pressed metal ceiling, architraves and mouldings, custom-built curved timber balcony fronts in the auditorium, foyer bars on all three levels and a glass façade to the new west wing. The theatre's “signature wall”, formerly in the basement and bearing autographs from visiting stars including Julie Anthony, Lauren Bacall, Barry Humphries, Rowan Atkinson and Alan Cumming, has been rebuilt brick by brick in a prominent position backstage. On the floors of each foyer level, brass tiles are engraved with the names of some of the notable stars who have performed at the theatre over the past 100 years. This grand and historic venue has finally achieved the glory she deserves, and a return to full houses and rapturous applause is eagerly anticipated.

This article appears in the November - December edition of Pro AVL Asia. Subscribe at www.proavl-central.com/subscribe/asia



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