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Where to sit in Melbourne's theatres

Looking for the best seats in the house? Sometimes they're not exactly where you expect

By Tim Byrne |
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Princess Theatre supplied image 2019
Photograph: Supplied

Melbourne is blessed with a wealth of theatres, from the grand old dames to the kooky hidden gems; no city in Australia can lay claim to as many in as good a condition as ours. But inside those venues, not all seats are created equal. Sure, there are some shows so spectacular and unmissable you’d happily sit anywhere, but most experiences in the theatre can be augmented by the best seats in the house. And occasionally ruined by the worst. So, without further ado, we give them to you.

RECOMMENDED: How to score cheap theatre tickets in Melbourne.

The best seats in Melbourne theatres

Princess Theatre supplied image 2019
Photograph: Supplied
Theatre, Musicals

Princess Theatre

icon-location-pin Melbourne

Best:

She’s currently housing the biggest show Melbourne has seen in decades – and judging by a recent performance of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, that buzz electrifies every member of the audience no matter where they’re seated. But there are certain seats in the Princess that make you feel like royalty. That first row or two in the centre of the dress circle are hard to beat, although the middle of the stalls is pretty fine too. You can even enjoy a show from the front of the grand circle, but be prepared to abseil down to them from a great height. Best seats are dress circle A 19 and 20.

Worst:

That great height brings us to the worst seats. While it’s largely true of all the big venues, it’s especially true of the Princess: those back rows of the grand circle (the top level) are ludicrously high, and watching a show from them feels like peering at an ant colony from a helicopter.

Regent Theatre 2019 supplied photo
Photograph: Supplied
Theatre, Musicals

Regent Theatre

icon-location-pin Melbourne

Best:

Originally built as a cinema, or “picture palace”, the Regent is a love it or loathe it venue that really has only a small number of good seats. These are concentrated in the stalls, as close to the stage as possible. And given that the venue uses a numbering system designed to trick you into thinking you’re closer to the stage than you really are – the first eight rows are AA, BB, CC etc – you really don’t want anything further away than F. It’s a wide space, though, so the sightline is fine even on the side ends. Best seats are EE 29 and 30.

Worst:

From around the middle of the stalls, it begins to feel like you are watching the show from across the street. From the back of the circle, it feels like you are watching it from Adelaide.

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Arts Centre Melbourne State Theatre supplied image
Photograph: Supplied
Theatre

State Theatre: Arts Centre Melbourne

icon-location-pin Southbank

Best:

The city’s grandest opera house, the State may not have the period charms of the Princess or the Regent, but it makes up for it with superb acoustics and a clever layout. Very large indeed, it can feel a little cavernous, so it’s better to sit as close to the stage as possible. The priciest seats are also the best, smack bang in the centre of the front rows. But it is often possible to grab cheaper tickets on the sides of the stalls, where slight sightline restrictions are compensated by the immediacy of the performers. Best seats are stalls F 22 and 23.

Worst:

The very back of the balcony is a long way away, and can make even the biggest shows seem remote. But at least you’ll hear every note.

Theatre, Musicals

Her Majesty's Theatre

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Best:

One of the cities most beloved, Her Majesty’s has a gorgeous Art Deco glamour about it, even if the foyer functions a bit like a loading zone. Hands down, the best seats in this theatre are the front rows of the dress circle. It sits low, so you don’t feel you are peering down on a show, and it is relatively close to the stage. There is nothing wrong with the first few rows of the stalls, but the dress is the place to be. Any of the first four rows, in the centre sections, are fine but the best are dress circle A 21 and 22.

Worst:

The grand circle is only good if you are in the front few rows, but the worst seats in this theatre are actually the back of the stalls. That low dress circle sits over the back half of the stalls, so the view of the stage is badly compromised from row O. It feels like you are peering through a letterbox, and should be avoided.

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Hamer Hall supplied image 2019
Photograph: Peter Bennetts
Music

Hamer Hall

icon-location-pin Southbank

Best:

The best thing about Hamer Hall is simply being in it, now it’s had its multi-million dollar makeover; it’s the only venue in the world that makes bright orange feel classy. Originally designed by John Truscott, it suffered from poor acoustics for years, but these issues were largely eradicated in the upgrade, and now even high up in the balcony, the sound is powerful. For the best experience, there’s nothing like the centre of the stalls. The sound wraps around you, and the sweat on the forehead of the first violinist feels close enough to mop. For a slightly loftier night, those first rows of the circle are grand too. Best seats are stalls row J 26 and 27.

Worst:

There are still rumours of dead spots around Hamer Hall, where the music is dulled by acoustic blackspots, but we think this is largely apocryphal. The only seats to avoid are the ones on the very ends of the rows in the balcony. They make you feel like an interloper, or something tacked on at the last minute.

Southbank Theatre Sumner auditorium supplied
Photograph: Supplied
Theatre

The Sumner: Southbank Theatre

icon-location-pin Southbank

Best:

Melbourne Theatre Company’s purpose-built theatre has a few detractors, who claim that the venue is subtly elitist; the further back you are, the more disconnected you feel. We disagree. There is no differentiation between sections of this theatre, so the seating bank is more akin to something you’d see in a lecture hall. This means there are no curves, and no sightline issues at all. The seats on the very ends of the rows are as unobstructed as those in the centre, and with everyone in the one space, there’s something endearingly collegiate about it. That being said, there are certainly good, better and best seats, and some clunkers. Best is dead centre in row G 16 and 17.

Worst:

The only seats that are really bad in the Sumner are any in the first row, and the second aren’t much better. You get a great view of actor’s nasal hair, but no sense of the production as a whole. If it’s a choice between the very back and the very front, we’d choose the back.

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Malthouse Merlyn Theatre 2019 supplied image
Photograph: Charlie Kinross
Theatre

The Merlyn: Malthouse Theatre

icon-location-pin Southbank

Best:

The Merlyn is technically a flexible seating space, and has been set up in traverse, thrust and even with no seating at all. But it usually works as a traditional two-tiered bank of seats with a narrow causeway separating the sections. For a strong overall stage impression, it’s best to sit in the central section, preferably in the front three rows. That said, there is something thrilling about the proximity to the actors you get in the lower section, and certainly the front rows are nowhere near as limited as in the Sumner. Even the upstairs balconies are charming in their own way, if you don’t mind leaning over the railings. Best are B 13 and 14.

Worst:

The Merlyn’s worst seats are really not that bad, and certainly shouldn’t put you off if they’re the last ones left. Those upper balconies are rarely filled, because they do give a strange, heightened view of the stage, but they don’t completely cut you out.

Angels in America fortyfivedownstairs 2017
Photograph: Supplied
Theatre

fortyfivedownstairs

icon-location-pin Melbourne

Best:

Another flexible space, this one is rarely set up the same way twice, so choosing the best seats can be a bit of a crapshoot. There is no allocated seating, either, so there is often a bit of a wild stampede for good seats as soon as the curtain parts. In general, it is best to get into the centre of any seating block, as some side seats can be very much on the side. And, given the new awareness of safe spaces, it’s generally not too confronting to sit in the front row. This will give you the best chance at unimpeded views. But who knows, you may be walking around this space freely, or clumped together in a tiny corner. The venue’s unpredictability is a large part of its charm.

Worst:

The main things to be mindful of at fortyfivedownstairs are the structural poles that keep up the four levels of building above. They tend to get in the way, wherever you sit.

Ready for a showstopper?

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