Hayes Theatre alive with musical hits
September 2, 2014
Richard for 2011

"A little imposing and a lot drab" - Hayes Theatre Co's headquarters on Greenknowe Ave.Hayes Theatre Company are going from strength to strength ... Three wins at the Helpmann awards ... Cheap tickets for 2011 residents ... And a ghost? ... Gina Machado reports 

FROM the outside the building looks a little imposing and a lot drab, despite the section of deep red paint. Only the big Hayes Theatre Co sign and a few flyers next to the door point to any fun inside. It's not until you reach the top of the stairs that the velvety, shabby chic decor and the over-the-top chandelier get you in the mood for a show.

They've only been in the area a short time but Hayes Theatre Co has made its mark in the theatre business, presenting its first show, Sweet Charity in February, which was a sell-out success and critical triumph - winning three Helpmann Awards, for best actress, director and choreography.

"The Helpmanns were an unexpected but well-deserved bonus," says Hayes Theatre Co Chair, Neil Gooding.

"We'd thought it would take a year to get a following but after the first two nights Sweet Charity was selling out and we knew we'd kicked off right."

Gooding says they've had a big walk-in audience. Many residents in the area are regular theatre-goers and he thinks they like having something to adopt as their local venue.

The company is named for Nancye Hayes, a legend of Australian musical theatre, "who lives just around the corner". The whole aim is to have the theatre as connected locally as it can be.

One way of doing this is with- "2011: A Postcode"- not quite the musical it sounds like, but an invitation for locals to drop in. Half an hour before show time on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, people who present ID showing they live in the postcode, can buy any unsold tickets for $20 each.

Hayes Theatre Co took over tenancy of the 1950s Reginald Murphy Hall from Darlinghurst Theatre Co, which left at the end of 2012 for bigger, fancier digs in the new Eternity Playhouse in Darlinghurst.

When the City of Sydney called for tenders to take over the abandoned space, Gooding and a group of other producers jumped at the chance to establish a permanent home for small musical theatre and cabaret, which he says had mostly relied on moving between small, scattered venues, making it hard to build a following.

Potts Point resident Richard Carroll was part of that group and is a board member of the new company. He'd been to shows at Darlinghurst Theatre and says he was keen to get involved.

Far from lamenting the departure of the old company, he "saw it as a real opportunity" to do something new with the venue.

Locals familiar with the building from The Darlinghurst Theatre days will immediately notice some cosmetic updates. Gooding explains: 

"The biggest changes have been to the public areas. The foyer is now dotted with earthy, sultry velvet and the bar all exposed wood. The overall effect is of the much-loved lounge room of a cheeky old aunt whose home is the favourite drop-in for her theatrical friends." 

Gooding also points out (not that you can miss it) the big chandelier over the main stairs. It, and two miniatures in the adjacent hallway are on loan. Beyond it, there's a rectangular section of bare brick.

The artwork that was there has been taken back by the City of Sydney, owners of the building, for restoration. In its place will eventually be a donor board, acknowledging major contributors. For now, Gooding says, he quite likes the patch of bricks, looking much like an artwork itself.

The current "hall of fame" is a haphazard row of framed head shots on the walls leading to the toilets. Despite the location, Gooding is clearly pleased with the support the company has garnered and is quick to praise the benefactors.

Hayes' seating originally came from Her Majesty's Theatre in Haymarket.The theatre itself is intimate, with 110 seats. Darlinghurst Theatre Co bought the seating from the old Her Majesty's Theatre in Haymarket after it closed in 2000. Many of those involved in Hayes had connections to "Her Maj" so it's nice to have the seats, though they're a little shabby now.

The dressing room is squeezed into what looks like a make-shift mezzanine built into the roof. It's deserted when I arrive but immediately my mind fills with the sounds of excited pre-show chatter and visions of swirling feather boas and overdone makeup. The room is alive, even when there's nobody here. As I head back down the narrow stairs, I sense the pushing and clatter of performers racing to the stage.

Hayes will present a mix of well known Broadway musicals and off-Broadway works, which Gooding says rarely get a run in Australia. He also wants to provide an avenue for new Australian musicals to grow and develop.

"Once people come to a classic show like Sweet Charity they'll trust us and know the theatre and will come back to try new and less familiar works."

Cabaret is also a big part of the repertoire. The first six months have included presentations of songs by artists as diverse as Annie Lennox and Petula Clark.

Richard Carroll, along with colleagues David and Lisa Campbell, is producer of Hayes' current show Britney Spears: The Cabaret, and expects it to do well after successful seasons in Adelaide and Melbourne.

It's written and directed by Dean Bryant, who has just won the Helpmann Award for best director, for Sweet Charity. It's a satirical work, in which Spears' hits are presented as cabaret songs. Gooding says this Hayes season will be the show's last run.

Next up will be musical comedy Lovebites, opening in September, followed by Miracle City, a big hit in the 90s, written by Sydney favourite the late Nick Enright. 

Standing on the balcony overlooking Greenknowe Avenue, I wonder about the energy I felt in the dressing room even while it was empty. "Is there a ghost?" I asked. I've heard that tradition says theatres always have one.

"No, not that we've seen. I guess we'll meet him soon enough", Gooding says, slightly bemused.

"Please let me know when you do," I reply. It would make for a great interview. 

Gina Machado reporting

Update on September 3, 2014 by Registered CommenterRichard for 2011

We corrected an editing error that said Her Majesty's Theatre had been closed for renovation, not demolition. Hat tip to Robert. 

Article originally appeared on Local news from postcode 2011 (http://postcode2011.com.au/).
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