By Jo Rittey


We may not have the historical buildings of Europe, but we certainly love our heritage buildings in Melbourne. Owned by the Marriner group, who also have the Regent Theatre, Plaza Ballroom and the Princess Theatre, the iconic Forum Theatre has recently been re-imagined with both a nod to the past and a view to the future.


Built in 1929 on land that had been sold in the first Melbourne land auction in 1837, the site on the corner of Flinders and Russell Streets was originally used as a private residence. After years as an iron store, coal yards, offices and a bond store, the Herald and Standard Newspaper Company occupied the Flinders Street building until it was purchased by Stuart Doyle, Managing Director of Union Theatres, to make way for the new State Theatre ‘picture palace’.


Having visited America in the early 1920’s, Stuart Doyle was keen to recreate the ‘atmospheric’ theatres he saw there with their ceilings giving the illusion of sitting under a night sky.


Construction on the State Theatre began in 1927. The auditorium had the ambience of a Florentine garden, even featuring a copy of the Venus De Capua (the original stands in the Naples Museum), and busts of classic Greek and Roman statues such as Diana of Versailles (the original stands in the Louvre) and Discobolus (now in the Vatican). The majority of the sculptures were cast directly from the originals. To encourage the theatre’s image of a heavenly garden, fresh flowers were placed around the auditorium, to fragrantly complete the picture.


Throughout the entire auditorium, the cerulean blue ceiling – imitating the Mediterranean sky – gave the feeling of being seated under an open evening sky, complete with twinkling stars and projected clouds floating past. At 3,371 seats, the Forum featured the largest seating capacity in the southern hemisphere.


In 1986, the Forum complex was purchased by the Melbourne Revival Centre and used as their meeting place for almost ten years. In 1996, David Marriner bought the complex, converting the Forum into one of Melbourne’s premier live music and cabaret venues, with comedians, magicians, dancers and live bands performing under the cerulean sky.


Now, twenty years on, the Forum has undergone an extensive renovation over 12 months to bring to life to the venue while retaining its original charm.


It can be difficult to really see change in heritage renovations, but here’s a little checklist for your next visit:


  • Entrance foyer carpet removed to reveal 200,000 stunning mosaic tiles and polished marble stairs
  • Three brand new architecturally designed bars
  • Brand new polished hardwood flooring
  • Hydraulic adjustable height flooring at the rear in place of the back bench rows
  • 14 x Bespoke designed custom built booths
  • Brand new designed bathrooms
  • Installation of a lift that accommodates cars into the venue
  • A purpose-built full production kitchen on site
  • Fully renovated green rooms for artists
  • State of the art stage lighting, sound & front of house rigging


While the Forum will continue to accommodate live performance; bands, comedy and more, it is also available for any kind of event you can think of. Catering is provided by a passionate team with Executive Chef, David Ricardo at its head. Food at the Forum will not be your usual function fare.


For more information: | @forummelbourne | #forummelbourne

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