After a three-year refurbishment, the Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall are finally reopening their doors this August with enhanced acoustics, new music, dance and theatre rehearsal rooms, as well as food and beverage outlets. Such improvements are certainly vital to preserve the grandeur and allure of this Victorian-era colonial landmark, which was erected nearly 150 years ago.
Now, let us take a walk down memory lane and revisit the buildings’ rich history!
You would be surprised to learn that the Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall were not even meant to be a theatre originally! In fact, the Victoria Theatre was first established as the young colony’s Town Hall back in 1862.
Designed by renowned architect, John Bennett, the building’s architecture exhibited influences of Victorian Revivalism with its Italianate windows, and was one of the first in Singapore to reflect this style. The Town Hall served a dual function initially, with a theatre on its ground floor, and offices and meeting rooms on the second. However, with a growing administration and an increasing demand for entertainment amongst the population, the Town Hall eventually proved too small for both functions. Thus, by 1893, its offices had to move out.
When Queen Victoria passed on in 1901, the colonial government decided to build a memorial hall for her alongside the existing Town Hall in the same architectural style for the purpose of continuity. Upon its completion in 1905, the new building was named Victoria Memorial Hall, while the Town Hall was revamped into a theatre around the same time, and renamed the Victoria Theatre. Subsequently, the Clock Tower joining the two buildings was completed in 1906, and the Victoria Theatre officially opened three years later in 1909.
Before the onset of World War II, the Victoria Theatre and Memorial Hall housed numerous concerts, musicals and plays, including a performance by Noel Coward in 1930. It later served as a hospital during the early stages of the war, and was then used for the trial of Japanese war criminals after their surrender at the end of the war.
The Victoria Theatre and Memorial Hall became a prominent role in Singapore’s political landscape after the war, functioning as the centre for the briefing of election officials and the counting of ballot papers from 1948, as well as the venue for the People’s Action Party’s inaugural meeting in 1954. In 1962, the original bronze statue of Singapore’s founder Stamford Raffles, which had been standing at the nearby Padang for years, was moved to the front of the building. After a thorough renovation in 1979, the Victoria Memorial Hall was renamed the Victoria Concert Hall, and has since become the home of the Singapore Symphony Orchestra.
Relive the glory days of the Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall this August as it reopens with the Singapore International Festival of Arts! Visit http://www.sifa.sg for more information!