The Sydney Theatre Scene - Where to Look and What to See on the Sydney Stages
Updated: Aug 9, 2020
If you, like me, want to engage with the best of the theatre scene of a city as soon as you touch down, I think it is always helpful to know where to start. I want to preface this blog by saying that this is the industry in which I work so I have had extensive exposure to the Sydney theatre scene, both as a Director and Producer, but also, mainly as a reviewer.
So, if you are coming into Sydney, where should you be looking to see what is on?
A Bit of Everything
Especially if you are from overseas or if this is your first time to Sydney, you are going to want to ensure that this iconic building is on your list of things to see. But why just visit the building when there is a hub of culture happening within its hallowed halls every day?
The SOH has 5 theatres inside the building and so productions range from major Operas, Ballets and Concerts, to Plays, Cabarets, Musicals, etc. The venues range in capacity from 300 seats (The Studio) to 2000 seats (The Concert Hall) so there is certainly variety in both the audience experience and also the types of shows you are going to see.
The Opera House plays host to independent productions but also productions by some of the countries major companies including Opera Australia, Sydney Theatre Company, The Australian Ballet, Sydney Symphony Orchestra, and others.
There are a number of restaurants in the building too and the Opera Bar which has the most incredible view and ambiance, right on the banks of the Harbour, literally underneath the sails of the SOH, looking up at the Harbour Bridge. On a sunny day, aside from the challenge of finding a seat, it is truly magical!
It is easiest to reach by driving or taking an Uber or taxi, or travelling to Circular Quay via public transport and walking from there (approx 8 mins walk).
You can buy tickets to the shows at the Opera House directly on their website.
Rich in history, this theatre is absolutely beautiful! Located right in the heart of the CBD, it is certainly easy to reach by public transport direct to Town Hall or Martin Place and a walk from there, or by driving in, though parking can be tricky (try the QVB). If you can, an Uber or taxi will be your easiest option for this one.
The State’s repertoire is very diverse and you’ll find everything from the occasional musical, to concerts, to comedians, to speeches, to sing-a-long sound of music.
It’s definitely worth checking out what is on - you never know what you may find!
Across the road from the Sydney University main campus and housing 3 theatres of varying sizes, this centre for theatre is definitely one to check out as the programming is very diverse and can feature everything from cabaret, to musicals, to plays, to talks, to concerts and more. Some of the shows are programmed and others are independent hirers but all go through a vetting process by the Artistic Director. Again, diversity is the key here in that these are all great blank spaces that become vibrant houses of creativity. Buses stop very nearby the theatre or there is a parking station attached to the complex.
The Capitol Theatre and Lyric Theatre
These two theatres are the major houses for musical theatre in Sydney - any major show is likely to be at one of these two venues so if you want to see a major musical whilst in town, check their websites to see what is on.
Many of the shows at these venues will be running promotional codes for discounted tickets regularly so it is worth checking out the show on social media to see if you can find any of the great deals sometimes available.
The Capitol Theatre is located in Haymarket and has many great restaurants nearby as it is close to the Chinatown area. Directly across the road, Chat Thai is a very popular pre-dinner choice, you’ll want to book far in advance if you want to dine here! Central station is your nearest train station, though buses will probably drop you closer. A parking station is available right next door and taxis are usually at the ready right outside at the conclusion of a show.
The Lyric Theatre is located with The Star complex which is the major casino in Sydney. This means that there are many dining options ranging from fine dining to buffet to a food court. Whilst I have tried a number of the restaurants there, springing to mind as something totally unique was the Sushi Burger from Gojima, a very casual restaurant, but great pre or post show, which is often what I have time for when reviewing.
Buses do go directly to the Star, although a taxi or uber may be easiest for this one. If you’re driving, there is a parking station available on site.
One of my favourite venues in Sydney, this small, intimate theatre has become the home of Sydney Independent Musical Theatre. It’s a space where big Broadway blockbusters are recreated to fit into a small black box space and sometimes they will totally blow your mind (anyone who saw In The Heights or Little Shop of Horrors there has to agree with me on that one!) If there’s a show on that you like there, it’s a space I’d recommend as, although the production team differs for every show, the quality is pretty consistent throughout.
Dinner is easy to find before or after the show - my favourite nearby restaurant is The Apollo just up the road if you’re looking to make a night of it, or if you want something casual, Kujin across the road has good Japanese food. There is so much in that area that you will be spoilt for choice!
You can either take a train to Kings Cross Station and walk or drive/uber/taxi to this one.
This is our premiere theatre company you could say. As far as ‘stars on stage,’ you’ll most likely find the biggest names here with the likes of Cate Blanchett, Rose Byrne, Hugo Weaving, and more taking to the stage here. The shows are generally of a very high quality as far as the production and, depending on your taste, are often very good. I am personally a big fan of this company and both their work but also their ethos, and if you want to see a show, I’d suggest checking out what they have on.
Currently under renovation, the usual home of the Sydney Theatre Company is on a wharf in Walsh Bay - right around the corner from The Rocks, the historic area of Sydney. Perched on the water, the theatre also has a bar and restaurant at the end of the wharf with a stunning view of the harbour bridge. It is a truly gorgeous place to sit and have a drink so when it reopens, if you’re seeing a show there, go early.
Sydney Theatre Co also has the awesome Roslyn Packer Theater - a theatre from which literally every seat has a pretty good view. I really love this space for the larger plays and always try to catch what is on at the theatre. Parking is easy with stations next door and street parking sometimes available. Buses do go to Hickson Road where the theatre is located or if you’re up for a walk, you could train or ferry to Circular Quay and walk from there.
Belvoir could be considered to be our second biggest theatre company in the city with its base in Surry Hills (a very cool area for bars, restaurants and boutique shopping) having 2 theatres - one for professional, large-scale works upstairs, and one for emerging artists downstairs. Belvoir is known for taking risks and for a largely Aussie-flair on its works (Australian or Australianised). The work is high quality and you can definitely make a night of going to their shows.
There is a bus that stops at the bottom of Belvoir Street so that may be the best form of public transport to get to this theatre. There is street parking available but get there early enough to get it as it can be competitive. Taxis and ubers will take you there easily and after the show I would suggest planning to call a taxi or use uber as it is unlikely one will simply drive by.
The Darlinghurst Theatre Company
Homebase for this theatre co is the stunning Eternity Playhouse - a smaller venue compared to the big commercial playhouses but absolutely one of my favourite theatres in Sydney. The shows here are generally good quality and there is always good variety in the year’s season. Recently the season has stretched to include musicals - last year (2019) it was Once and this year (2020) should have been A Chorus Line. Would definitely recommend seeing shows here - taking a bus to the area and walking is certainly easy - it is very centrally located or driving or taking a taxi/uber is a great option.
Located in one of the coolest neighbourhoods in Sydney, the Old 505 theatre is smack bang in the middle of Newtown which means that you have heaps of options for restaurants, bars or just quick bites on your way to or from the theatre. The Old 505 celebrates emerging artists and a lot of their work is made by the up-and-coming scene of Sydney. The team behind the venue management there is also very involved in the Sydney and Adelaide fringe festivals so you’ll often catch some of the ‘best of’ from those festivals at the Old 505.
The Newtown train station is just a couple minutes walk away and this is the closest public transport to the theatre. Taxis and ubers may be easier than driving to this one as parking can be challenging though street parking is available for those who are patient.
Across the Harbour Bridge, this intimate theatre is in the beautiful suburb of Kirribilli. The Ensemble has a definite audience and it knows exactly how to appeal to them with fantastic quality shows from more established artists. I personally love this theatre and whilst I am not their target audience (I am often the youngest in the room), I rarely miss a show! Driving is your easiest bet for this one, although if you want to take public transport to Milson’s Point and walk it is definitely doable...it is a bit steep is my only word of warning.
KXT features works created by Sydney’s independent arts scene from playwrights around the world. They are located upstairs from a pub in the Kings Cross Hotel and in a fantastic location as far as dinner and drinks, or even clubbing after the show if you’re in the mood. The work is high quality and this theatre has really made a name for itself in the last few years!
The theatre is right next door to the Kings Cross Train Station. Whilst you can sometimes find street parking and you can of course use a taxi or uber, if you do want to use public transport, this theatre is about a 1 minute walk from the train station.
Underground, below a pub you will find one of Sydney’s more intimate but very authentically Aussie (I mean, it’s below a pub!) theatre spaces that is responsible for some very high quality work of late and for some boundary pushing pieces that have had the theatre scene talking. Definitely worth checking them out if you are up for a night of black box theatre - it’s a great space and the works can be excellent!
Personally, I find driving to this one the easiest but recommend leaving time to park!
The only theatre company on this list that is dedicated to producing Australian works, Griffin is set in old stables in the middle of Darlinghurst and near many restaurants and bars. They are one of the top theatre companies in the city and definitely worth seeing what is on there, particularly if you especially want to engage with Australian work.
Taking the train to Kings Cross station will put you about a 5 minute walk from the theatre, or driving/taxi/uber is a definite easy option for this area.
Outside of the Sydney CBD
There are some fantastic theatres that are very worth checking out outside of the middle of the city if you find yourself further out. As I have mainly written this guide for visitors to Sydney, I will just name those that I recommend checking out if you’re in a position to visit them. The work at these theatres is top notch and worth seeing, they are just a little further to travel to:
Riverside Theatres - Parramatta
The Joan - Penrith
Sydney Coliseum - Rooty Hill
The Concourse - Chatswood
And that is just the start of what we have to offer but if you’re coming to Sydney, checking these out will hopefully lead you to finding a show or two that you’d like to see whilst here.
As a cheeky little mention...if you check out @Theatretravels on either facebook or instagram or at www.theatretravels.org, that’s my own theatre company based in Sydney and if we have a show on during your stay in Sydney, I would LOVE you to come! Reach out either via Theatre Travels or Through My Sunnies and let me know you’re coming so I can be sure to come and say hi and meet you at the theatre, and also so that I can tell you if we have any family/friends discount or promo codes running and save you $!
Speaking of saving money, it is worth noting that many shows in Sydney do not sell out and there are often opportunities to get discounted tickets to many shows. That said, check because if it looks popular, you need to get your tickets quickly - what sells here, sells fast! Sites to look at for discounts are:
TodayTix - an app for your phone (you can just switch cities if you already have it from the US or UK)
Join free membership programs at venues like the Capitol or the Opera House and get emails with discount codes as soon as they are made available
Be under 30 =) Anyone under 30 has access to limited discounted tickets from Belvoir, Griffin and STC (many of the STC discounts require you to be under 25)
Check out the individual show or theatre company’s website - sometimes there are lotteries announced or promo codes
Unfortunately we don’t really have a rush policy here for most shows and so there isn’t much opportunity to get discounted tickets by standing at the box office day of as in other cities. Check per show but majority here don’t have it.
Also not a big thing (or really a thing at all) here is the stage door experience. Just mentioning this to avoid disappointment if you’re coming from a city that has a big stage door culture - we don’t really do that here (which is a shame because I love having that opportunity to chat with the cast after the show in other cities) and stage doors here are not always that easy to find. That said, in many of the smaller theatres, the cast enters out the same door as the audience or right nearby so if you really were hoping to meet someone, you may just get lucky.
Hope to see you at the theatre during your time here in Sydney.