Art & Design


Ladies and Gentlemen, The Forum

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Almost a decade ago, a fresh-faced lad from Canada’s snow-covered west found himself anxiously waiting in line in the heart of Melbourne’s CBD.  The city was hot and pulsating—nothing like the suburban monotony of his dozy hometown.  When he was finally allowed inside, he picked his way through the charged-up crowd, past booths overflowing with smoke and beer-fuelled conversation.  On the sticky floor before the stage, the young lad took a drag from an offered joint and paused to take in his surroundings.  He was awestruck. Backlit Greco-Roman statues flanked a deep, ornate stage.  Overhead was the illusion of a sparkling night sky.  His head slightly spinning, he could feel the exquisite tension radiating through the expectant crowd.

Then the lights went down.  On stage, Jonathan Donahue of Mercury Rev appeared, glass of red wine raised in solute to his adoring subjects.  All around arms shot up in unison—an instant ecstatic forest.  Deep in their midst, lost in the surge, the young lad grinned from ear to ear—pure magic beneath a painted sky.

That was my first experience at the Forum.  And I’ve loved it ever since.

Everything about The Forum Theatre is dramatic.  The brainchild of Romanian-American architect John Eberson, it sits like a gargoyle on the corner of Flinders and Russell.  Its monstrous Moorish Revival exterior practically glares at Federation Square’s post-modern shards across the street.  Inside, the Forum’s vaguely menacing exterior gives way to the post-WWI opulence of its ersatz Greco-Roman styling.  Produced in conjunction with local Melbourne firm Bohringer, Taylor & Johnson, the Forum was originally known as the State Theatre and at the time of its opening in 1929, it had the greatest seating capacity of any theatre in the country.

Since then, the Forum has gone through a number of identities.  In 1963, it was split into two cinemas when taken over by Greater Union and in 1985 it was oddly taken over by Revival Centres International, a Melbourne-based Pentecostal church, serving as their international headquarters.  But it wasn’t until 1995, following several years of disrepair, that the Forum Theatre was transformed into perhaps the finest live performance venue in Melbourne.  These days it’s heritage listed, ensuring that it’s iconic façade will remain a feature of Melbourne’s CBD for years to come.

Ask anyone who likes live music in Melbourne and chances are they have a Forum story or two like mine.  Since arriving ten years ago I’ve had plenty of great experiences in Melbourne, but very few come close to that night a decade ago when I was first seduced by the Forum.

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