Regent Theatre

Regent Theatre

Regent Theatre
Commercial Road, Yarram
Showing films from: 1930

The Regent Theatre has been screening films in Yarram since 1930. Occupying a significant site on Commercial Road, the Regent was built by Mr & Mrs Thompson. However, it was Mrs Margaret Adelia Thompson, best known as ‘Ma Thompson’ who was the main person behind the development. The Regent was the second cinema that Ma Thompson had built in Yarram, the first was the Strand Theatre, which was built in 1914 and occupied a site at the other end of Commercial Road.

The Regent is a two-story purpose built cinema that cost in the region of $40,000 to build. It’s original seating was for 1000, distributed between 600 seats in the stalls and 400 in the balcony. The seats in the stalls were movable, allowing the auditorium to be used for multiple purposes, including concerts, dances and live theatre. The exterior of the building, which still retains most of its original features, followed a ‘Mediterranean’ design, something that was popular in many cinemas and theatres of the era. Key features of the facade include a full-length pressed metal veranda over hanging the pavement, three central glass doors with ‘sunburst’ lead-lighting insets at the top and three large fan-shaped windows, which took up much of the front wall. In the original design retail units were positioned either side of the main entrance. Across the front of the building the ‘Regent Theatre’ was spelt out in ornate lettering, and this also remains.

Walking up the three marble steps and through the glass doors the visitor reaches the foyer, which is decorated with wooden panelled walls and a detailed pressed metal ceiling. In foyer a staircase leads to the second floor, in the original design the ticket booth was situated under the back of the staircase, and there was access to a dedicated pram room, ladies cloakroom and an adjoining sweet shop. Upstairs there is a second foyer, which originally contained another ticket booth for those wishing to purchase seating in the balcony area.

At one end of the auditorium is a large stage, and this was designed so it could either display the cinema screen or could be fitted out for live performance. Surrounding the stage stands the proscenium, which has unusual dimensions, given it is taller than it is wide. In the centre of the proscenium there is a plaque displaying the initials ‘RT’, indicating the name of the theatre. The Regent had a novel way of insulating the building, which was done by using a layer of seaweed in the ceiling – making use of its proximity to the sea.

The Regent opened its doors to the public for the first time on the 18th of September 1930, with the now lost film: 4 Devils (1928, dir. F. W. Murnau, starring Janet Gaynor).[1] While the ‘4 Devils’ was a silent film, by the 1930s many films had been made with sound, so it was important for the Regent to be wired for sound. In 1931 that happened when the projection booth was equipped with Raycophone sound equipment. When the Regent first opened films were screened on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. Other forms of entertainment, such as concerts, live performance and balls took place on other days of the week.

Under tightening regulations, the projection booth, which was situated at the back of the balcony, had to be fireproofed, and this was tested out only a few months after the Regent opened. The Gippsland Times reported that there was a ‘Sensation at Yarram’ when a fire broke out in the projection booth during a Saturday night screening in November 1930. Over a 1,000 feet of film was destroyed and the performance had to be discontinued but the paper reported that the fire brigade were soon on the spot to put the fire out and no one was hurt or panicked. Two years later Yarram was hit by the worse storm that the town had seen in 50 years – and it took its toil on the Regent. The wind was so strong that it blew portions of the roof off the building leaving the cinema screen and areas of the auditorium open to the sky for some time before the repair work could be carried out.

In 1958 the Regent was purchased by the then Shire of Alberton, and since then the Council, along with various community/ management committees have managed the venue. However with the rise of television in the 1950s and the subsequent fall in cinema attendance film screenings had to be reduced (and stopped completely for some time) and the Regent became know more for holding different kinds of entertainment events. A programme of improvements and refurbishments have continued over the years, meaning many of the original features of the building are still visible and in good shape. Today, the Regent is used for many different purposes, including theatre, concerts eisteddfods, wedding receptions, as well as running a regular film programme and hosting film festivals.

[1] The artist Lily Hibbard engaged with this part of the Regent’s history in the play she wrote and produced as part of her work for The Cinemas Project.

Many thanks to Lily for sharing her invaluable research on the history of cinema in Yarram and the notes from the memory days she conducted as part of The Cinemas Project.


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3 Responses to Regent Theatre

  1. Television was not that common in Yarram in the 50s, even into the 60s. Saturday afternoon matinees at the Regent were the standard entertainment for us kids, costing 2 and sixpence. Saturday evening sessions with parents, or later, with teenage girlfriends and boyfriends (pashing in the back row) would provide a newsreel, cartoons, and 2 movies. You certainly got your money’s worth. I remember the first film I ever liked (and was not scared of) was Elvis in Jailhouse Rock, about 1958. I would have been 8.

    In high school (1960s), every time a Biblical Epic was shown, there would be a school excursion to see it.

    If you were seated in the balcony, to go to the toilet you had to walk down a raised walkway down each side of the theatre past the screen, which was always an impressive sight!

    In recent years, the Regent had the first digital projection system in a country cinema installed. However, it struggles to compete with home entertainment these days, but still screens sporadic films.

    A high school band I was in played there on the sloping stage in the 60s. Our 25 year high school reunion was held there in 1991, and I played there again!

    I also saw quite a few bands there in the late 60s, including many of the hitmakers of the day – Normie Rowe, Johnny Young etc. There was also a wrestling show there once that I saw. The local policeman joined in as a competitor.

    They still bring Melbourne bands there regularly, but Yarram (population 2100) is pretty much a retirement village these days, so they struggle to find an audience.

  2. Fond memories of this place my sister and brothers would all go to the saturday matinees (together) we had sixpence to spend at the milkbar next door. (Wynnes?). I think l use to get a spider drink and some mixed lollies in one of those little white paper bags.
    One of my best memories of growing up in Yarram.
    Would love to go back one day for a memory trip, just stand inside and soak it all in.

  3. Sometimes there was a disturbance in the stalls as one mischief maker, then another and another, tipped their whole box of jaffas down the aisle; soon there was a waterfall of jaffas rolling down the aisle. Mr Stafford “Staff” would burst into the theatre, shine his torch along the row of giggling wide-eyed innocents, shout at a couple of offenders and then retreat. Then we became lost in the main feature. Two I remember were “The Student Prince” with Mario Lanza and “High Society” starring Grace Kelly. I cried buckets into my hanky!

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