On March 13 last year, bombastic UK glam-rock band the Darkness performed at the Enmore Theatre. It turned out to be one of the last live gigs in Sydney – and the last at the Enmore – before large gatherings were banned just a few days later. For months, the Enmore’s stage lay dormant, and posters for shows that never ended up happening decorated its facade, a time capsule of pre-Covid times.
But tonight, after undergoing restoration works, the beautiful art deco theatre will reopen to the public again for the first of a clutch of live gigs planned for the venue in the coming year.
“It’s a huge relief,” Sam Nardo, chief operating officer of Century Venues, which operates the theatre, tells Broadsheet. “It will be a bit of a road ahead for recovery but we’re so excited to be back.”
Tonight’s gig, Sounds of Sydney, will see Aussie musos old and young take to the stage, marking one of the most significant signs that live music is finally making a comeback post-Covid. Julia Zemiro will host the evening, which features artists including Ian Moss, Tim Freedman, Isabella Manfredi (the Preatures), Alex the Astronaut, Red Riders, the Choirboys, Ella Hooper, and (former red Wiggle) Murray Cook and his band the Soul Movers. All ticketing proceeds will be donated to Australian music charity Support Act, which assists music-industry workers – including artists, road crew and other music workers – who are experiencing tough times.
It’ll be the first of many shows the theatre has lined up in the coming months – other highlights include Midnight Oil (February 25); Patti Smith (April 17 and 18, 2022); Tim Minchin (July 11 to 15); Lime Cordiale (March 13 and 14); Dan Sultan (March 27); and the Rubens (April 16). But it hasn’t been easy getting to this point.
“While the reopening is a milestone and a cause for some optimism, the reality is that with the international borders being closed – and likely to be closed until 2022 – we are by no means back to business as usual,” Nardo says. “Likewise, with the unpredictability of state borders, it makes it near impossible for local artists to plan and prepare to tour interstate. We are constantly rescheduling shows, often with little to no notice. Some artists have been impacted up to three or four times on a single attempt to run a tour; this undoubtedly brings with it fatigue and reluctance. There is a real need for a system that allows for artists to tour and present their work safely, similar to that made available for sporting codes.”
During its hiatus from live gigs, plans to restore the 1908-built venue – the only art deco theatre in Sydney that remains in its original condition – were brought forward. Side wing balconies – originally planned for 1936 – have been installed; the opulent ceiling and its lights have undergone a renovation; and a 24-metre light installation, included in the 1936 plans, has also been affixed to the ceiling. A further 2.5 kilometres of LED lighting has been installed; it’s hooked up to computers to synchronise with what’s happening on stage.
“We also have new carpet to welcome people back into the theatre,” says Nardo. “We certainly won't be precious if a beer or two gets spilled on it at a standing concert [which we hope happens] sooner rather than later.”