The Isaac Theatre Royal is a heritage theatre in Christchurch.
The theatre, which was designed by Australian brothers Sidney and Alfred Luttrell, opened in 1908. It is the only operational Edwardian style theatre remaining in New Zealand.
The first theatre on Gloucester Street, the Canterbury Music Hall, a wooden building was built in 1863, on a site across the road from the current theatre. The theatre later became the Royal Princess Theatre and then the Theatre Royal. This building was replaced by another wooden building in 1876.
The new Theatre Royal opened on its current site in February 1908. Its design included a traditional horseshoe-shaped dress circle and gallery, elaborately decorated walls and a painted dome. The theatre has had several renovations over the years. In 1928 the theatre interior had a major rebuild – only the dome, which features a painting of scenes from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, remained untouched.
By the 1970s owner J.C. Williamson Theatres were scaling down investments in New Zealand. As a buyer was unable to be found it appeared the theatre would be demolished and the land sold. A group ‘Friends of the Christchurch Theatre Royal’ was formed to try and save the theatre. The Theatre Royal Foundation was later formed that raised the funds to buy the theatre from Williamson.
For many years restoration work was carried out with very little budget. Between 2004 and 2005, a $6.2 million redevelopment was undertaken. This included demolishing the original brick fly tower and dressing room facilities and building a larger modern concrete fly tower and dressing room facilities. The stage and fly tower was made wider and deeper.
Unfortunately the auditorium and foyer were damaged during the February 2011 Christchurch earthquake and following aftershocks. The theatre was closed for nearly four years while a $40 million restoration was completed. The theatre reopened on the 17 November 2014.
The main auditorium seats up to 1292 across three levels – Stalls, Dress Circle and Grand Circle. There is also the Gloucester Room, which is a studio space suitable for rehearsals, workshops and performances.
The theatre is named after art patron Lady Diana Isaac, who generously supported the 2004/05 refurbishment. Lady Isaac passed away 23 November 2012, aged 91.
The Isaac Theatre Royal is at 145 Gloucester Street. It is just around the corner from the New Regent Street Precinct.