Being only three hours drive from Sydney and having a population of less than 400,000, blockbuster shows and events do not come to Canberra and ‘seasons’ for what does come are measured in days rather than weeks, months or years.
That said Canberra is an affluent place and for Australia very culturally aware. Accordingly it hosts numerous art galleries, smaller theatres, its own orchestra and so on.
Primary among the theatres is the Canberra Theatre Centre which comprises two main venues – the Canberra Theatre (1200 seats) and The Playhouse (618 seats). It was originally envisaged that The Playhouse would be home to quality local dramatic productions whilst the Canberra Theatre would house national and international touring acts, though that division has blurred somewhat.
Being a modern theatre complex the theatres are plain and functional with full unobstructed views to the stage from all seats. My only criticism is that while there is decent leg room for taller people like myself the seats are too narrow (and I am not as wide as I am tall!).
Also within the complex is the Courtyard Studio – principally a rehearsal room but also used as a 90-seat venue for those smaller more intimate performances which some might translate as performances no one would want to go to, though that might be an unduly harsh assessment.
As the venues are not taken over by ‘long-run’ shows, a wide variety of performances are offered ranging from opera and ballet to musicals and standard plays, comedy revues, orchestral recitals, pop groups, concerts, and so on. In fact, nothing that might fit under the term performing arts seems to be excluded, such that over a year there is something suited for everyone other than the true cultural philistine.
Of late the theatre has attracted a series of shows by ageing/dating international pop stars/groups and tribute bands. In fact, my most recent visit to the theatre was to see Bjorn Again – probably the world’s number one ABBA tribute band, originally from Melbourne, Australia. I must say it was a fun evening and greatly enjoyed by loyal ABBA fans (of which there are a disproportionate number in Australia, but that’s another story) now in their sixties and seventies but still able to boogie in the aisles. While the audience could generally be described as more mature Canberrans and visitors it did include a number of younger people some more interested than others. It was particularly amusing to watch a young guy at the end of my row who spent the evening attending to facebook, tweeting or whatever apps he had on his mobile phone. He was clearly there against his will, presumably dragged there by his mother, who was sitting next to him and totally engrossed in the show. My final picture is a shot taken by ‘Bjorn Again’ and posted on its Facebook page. As I am in it (though you won’t make me out) I have taken the liberty of re-posting it here.
As the Canberra Theatre and The Playhouse share the same foyer (incl. box office) and bar area it can get a little crowded at times and interval drinks can be a bit of a trial. Bar prices, while higher than outside outlets, are not outrageous though I do suggest you bring your own bottled water, which is on the pricier side here. Drinks served in quality plastic glasses, once you do procure them, can be taken into the auditorium, unlike most similar venues these days. While some snack type food is available I recommend that you eat elsewhere before or after the show. The Theatre Centre is conveniently located for this purpose and it’s a very short walk to the city centre and its numerous eating options.
Visitors and would be visitors to Canberra often bemoan the lack of late evening/night-time activity in the city. This criticism has some justification though things are changing and the Canberra Theatre Centre is one venue that should not be overlooked on your visit to Canberra. Tickets can be booked online and printed out at home so there is no excuse for missing a show here. Check out the website for current and upcoming productions.
Dress Code: Pretty much none – see the theatre website
Address: Civic Square on London Circuit
Directions: Less than five minutes walk from anywhere in the City Centre. Though there is ample parking close-by in the evenings. Check the pay machines as hours of free parking are variable (2017)
Phone: (02) 6275 2700