The Former Russell Street Theatre was constructed in c1885-86 as a single-storey, open-plan engineering workshop, and was used until 1921 for various light industrial activities. It was then sold to the Reverend Charles Strong, who had in 1885 founded the Australian Church, the first religious denomination to arise within Australia. The group had built a grand church in Flinders Street (now demolished) in 1887, but ran into financial difficulties and sold the church in 1920. The old workshop in Russell Street was converted to serve as a church, and a two storey block, with a foyer and offices on the ground floor and a lecture room above, was added on the Russell Street frontage. The church at its peak had a congregation of approximately 1000 members, however a diminishing congregation followed Strong’s death in 1942 and led to the building being sold in 1955. The Australian Church was dissolved in 1957.
The building was sold to the Council of Adult Education (CAE) for use for amateur theatre. Plans for the conversion were drawn up by the Public Works Department and works were completed in 1960. The two-storey front section was altered to form a foyer, office, box office and kiosk on the ground floor with a conference room and kitchen above. The theatre seated 420 patrons. In 1960 the Union Theatre Repertory Company (UTRC), based at Melbourne University’s Union Theatre, agreed to rent the building for six months a year for use as their secondary venue, and became their sole venue five years later. The UTRC was renamed the MTC in 1968, and the theatre was then redecorated to designs by the eminent architect Robin Boyd. The auditorium floor was raked and the seats were removed; red carpet and red second-hand seats and gold-coloured wire mesh at ceiling height were installed; the two-storey front section was reconfigured; the exterior and interior were painted in shades of red; and red wallpaper with the MTC’s logo designed by Boyd were added to the interior. The theatre served as the Company’s sole venue from 1965-84, when it moved to the Victorian Arts Centre, and the Russell Street theatre again became their secondary venue. In 1989 the interior of the building was redecorated in grey colours. The theatre closed in 1994, was used briefly as a nightclub in the late 1990s, and since then it has remained largely unused.
– Heritage Victoria
ASSESSMENT OF CULTURAL HERITAGE SIGNIFICANCE & EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR RECOMMENDATION, 23 May 2014
– Melbourne Theatre Company, retrieved 4 May 2014