The show must go on

The show must go on

Roleystone Theatre president Bree Hartley with Lance Boyle (Minister for the Arts David Templeman). Photograph - Richard Polden

A star-studded audience walked the red carpet at the black-tie opening night of the Roleystone Theatre last Friday.

Those lucky enough to receive a golden ticket to the theatre’s premiere were treated to drinks, canapes and a show featuring the cream of Perth’s entertainment scene thanks to coordinator Katherine John, and MCed by Lance Boyle – cultural attaché and senior policy advisor (READ: alter ego) to the Minister for the Arts David Templeman.

Elaina O’Connor as Dorothy and Ethan Churchill as the cowardly Lion in a snippet from the Wizard of Oz.

“There was a real odour of culture as I walked through the door – it was magnificent,” Mr Boyle mused, chewing the scenery.

“I’m well-and-truly rooted in community theatre – that stench of culture never leaves you, it permeates every pore.

“And we need to recognise that this theatre’s been through a tremendous journey.”

It really has. And it was the building, not those treading the boards, that took centre stage.

After six long years of waiting in the wings, select members of the theatre community revelled in their chance to view their beloved building in the limelight once again.

Roleystone Theatre’s Sonja Reynolds, Henry Ronchi (treasurer) and Malita Ronchi

The original red weatherboard-clad wooden hall was constructed in 1922. But it wasn’t until 1977 that it was officially recognised as a theatre.

During its community theatre era, successive generations of players got their first big role on its well-worn stage, nestled within its increasingly hodgepodge façade.

The Keogh brothers (and their sister), trod the boards at Roleystone Theatre in their younger days.

But in February 2018, the Roleystone Theatre was closed because of structural faults. The situation went from bad to worse after closer examination, and it was deemed unredeemable, with a tacit admission at the time from one councillor that years of neglect of the city-owned building had led to this fait accompli.

But the community was not about to let this story become a tragedy.

People from all corners of Roleystone rallied to save their theatre in one of the largest and most well-organised protest movements the City of Armadale has experienced.

Flashback to November 2018: Members of the “Save our Theatre” group Elaine Derieutr, Deb De Boer, Maria Ford, Megan Ford and Linda Moore.

The city heard the community’s battle cry loud and clear and councillors unanimously decided to commit to rebuilding the theatre, come hell or high water.

One of the organisers of the yellow shirt brigade, Deb de Boer, expressed her relief during Friday’s pageantry.

“I’m so excited to see it standing here. It’s a beautiful theatre and well-worth resurrecting,” she said.

“We didn’t think we’d make it, because it was so much money.

“But we couldn’t just leave it up to the bean counters to decide – when everything is down to dollars and cents, we risk losing what’s important to us.

“This is the heart of Roleystone. There’s such a rich history here and it’s important to keep some of it.

“And it would have been such a loss not just to the local community but to greater Perth.”

But it did cost a pretty penny to resurrect, and took much longer than expected to rebuild, especially after COVID crippled the construction industry.

And promises of funding from outside sources never eventuated meaning the City of Armadale was saddled with the creeping costs and the entire $5 million bill.

While everyone present on Friday appeared to be thoroughly enjoying themselves, it was clear the whole ordeal had left people battle-weary.

“It’s a little bittersweet,” Roleystone Theatre president Bree Hartley said, who has maintained her grace throughout the saga.

Through homelessness and disappointment at not being able to celebrate the theatre’s centenary, members have nevertheless lived by the adage that ‘the show must go on’, putting on productions wherever they could find the space.

“It’s been six years of our members’ lives, and it’s been a rollercoaster of emotions the whole time,” Ms Hartley said.

“But it is amazing to see the building here, full of people, and ready to see out another 100 years for the community.”

Alan Gill has performed on stages all over Perth, but the Roleystone Theatre holds a special place in his heart; it’s where he got his first major roles, and it’s where he later met his wife, Michelle Ezzy.

“This theatre has performed such a formative role in my life and who I’ve become,” he said.

“When we drove up the hill earlier it felt like we were coming home.

“I’m grateful to the council for funding this, because they could have very easily said ‘well, we didn’t get the funding but at least we tried’.”

The interior of the foyer has been completely reconfigured, with an internal atrium, and more space for the bar and kitchen.

Actor Paul Peacock and Roleystone Theatre life member Kim Fletcher in front of some of the original red weatherboards that were saved.

But the red weatherboards from the original building were saved and reused in a feature wall. And planks from the old stage – history etched into their grain – welcome patrons as they enter the building.

There are quite a few happy new additions – a backstage toilet being one of them.

But according to those in the know, the performance space elicits feelings of uncanny familiarity.

“The stage is a little differently configured, but the DNA is there. So, I commend the people who worked on this, because it feels like they’ve maintained the essence of the theatre,” Mr Gill said.

The architects, builders and city’s planning staff were all invited to attend the civic launch of the theatre.

“Without you, we would not have rebuilt this building and be reopening it in such fabulous fashion,” Mayor Ruth Butterfield said in her address.

“Grassroots community theatre is so important.

“And we’re so proud to have rebuilt a home for the performing arts in the hills of Roleystone.

“We look forward to seeing you at many, many shows in future, and seeing this theatre thrive.”

A trio of mayors: Victoria Park’s Karen Vernon, City of Armadale’s Ruth Butterfield, and City of Gosnells’ Terresa Lynes.

But several community members have quietly questioned whether the theatre has been kneecapped from the outset with no increase in seating to make it a profitable venture.

Ironically, the community’s debut production at the new Roleystone Theatre will be ‘How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying’, a musical satire of big business, and part of the Armadale Arts Festival.

The season runs for three weeks, from May 17.

And the Roleystone Theatre community will get their chance to celebrate the theatre’s revival in their own way at an open day and gala concert at a date still to be determined later this year.

Photographs by Richard Polden and 7 to 1 Photography