Art & Design
Posted by Shawn Hamm
30. Mar, 2011
The Princess Theatre has stood as one of Melbourne’s premiere venues for over a century. This minksy mistress of the cultured night has changed hands many times, undergone countless facelifts and seen her share of talent. But true to show biz, through thick and thin, the Princess has always bounced back to put on one hell of a show.
Originally erected as Astley’s Amphitheatre in 1854, this would-be princess opened her stage to great demand, shining bright and fading nearly as quick. By 1857 the Astley closed after a steady decline in tickets and passed on to George Coppin, an actor-entrepreneur. Remodeled and renamed, opening night introduced the Princess Theatre to the people of Melbourne – and a star was born.
By 1886 the Princess had changed hands twice more and was undergoing yet another renovation, this time under the watchful eye of architect William Pitt. It was through Pitt that the Princess was remolded into the Victorian beauty we know today. However it would be during an ill-fated performance of Faust that the Princess was to gain one more timeless fixture, this time of a more ethereal variety.
The spirit of Frederick Baker, lovingly referred to as “Federici”, has been strolling about the playhouse and catching the eye of staff and audience alike since 1888. As history would have it, Frederick was taken by heart attack at the climax of Von Goethe’s Faust. Lowered by trapdoor into a simulated hell in full Mestopheles dress, Frederick passed away on the basement floor. However, not even a little hiccup like death could keep the acting veteran from taking his bows on stage with fellow cast members, oblivious to his passing, moments later. Up until recently, a seat was always been saved on the acting circle for Federici, known to be spotted on occasion late at night in his old chair.
The Princess Theatre is a Melbourne icon, a heritage in form and function to be experienced by everyone. From socialite schmoozers and culture connoisseurs, story and art will always have a stage to call home here, along the skyline of Spring Street.