Isaac Theatre Royal, Christchurch

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.

The Civic Auckland

The Civic is heritage atmospheric theatre in downtown Auckland.


Yesterday morning I went on a tour of the The Civic. The tour is scheduled to run for approximately 45 minutes but I was there for almost two and a half hours.

The Civic opened on 20 December 1929. It was a purpose built cinema devised by Thomas O’Brien. It was designed with Indian, Javanese, ancient Persian and Moorish themes. It featured grand staircases, original artwork, exotic figures of animals, including two life-size Abyssinian panther statues. As an atmospheric theatre it had a night sky with twinkling stars.

Construction begun in April 1929 and was completed in 33 weeks. As there were not the health and safety regulations of today it was a dangerous worksite, and at least 8 men have believed to have died during the construction that employed some 2,000 workers.

While it opened to initial interest, audience numbers quickly dropped due to the Depression and O’Brien screening British films rather than the popular Hollywood films, which were screening across the road.

O’Brien departed for Australia in 1932 and a series of mangers were appointed to act on behalf of the original investors.

During the Second World War it was a popular venue for United States soldiers in town.



By the 1980s, The Civic was rundown and was facing demolition. A group called Friends of the Civic formed and fought for its continuation.

A two year project saw many of the theatre’s original features being restored or recreated. The project also included addition of modern elements, such as a stage with seven-storey fly tower, Green Room, dressing rooms, modern sound and lighting.

The Civic reopened in 1999 on its 70th anniversary of its opening night. Today it is a performing arts venue and cinema, hosting events such as large-scale touring musicals and an international film festival.

The twinkling night sky is a recreation of how the sky was on December 20, 1929.

The Civic is located on the corner of Queen Street and Wellesley Street.




Dressing rooms




Stage – wings


Ceiling lighting rig


Flamingo curtain


Under the stage


Under the stage




Some of the shows I’ve seen at The Civic

Embassy Theatre

The Embassy Theatre is located at the eastern end of Courtenay Place on Kent Terrace.

The Embassey

The Embassey

The theatre, which was originally called De Luxe was built in 1924. In 1945 its name was changed to The Embassy. It has been renovated several times over the years. The most recent was for the world premiere of Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King in 2003.

The building has an impressive interior that includes a marble staircase with tiled walls and floors. Even the bathrooms look impressive.

Marble staircase

Marble staircase

There is also a snack bar and Blondini’s Cafe and Bar on the upper level overlooks Courtney Place.

While the grey clouds outside turned to rain I watched James Napier Robertson’s second feature film The Dark Horse, starring Cliff Curtis and James Rolleston.

Wall poster advertising 'The Dark Horse'

Wall poster advertising ‘The Dark Horse’

Embassy Theatre

10 Kent Terrace