The Theatre Royal Opened – 26th December 1861

On 26th December 1861, what would become the Isaac Theatre Royal opened on the opposite side of Gloucester Street, and was known as the Canterbury Music Hall.

Just a simple barn-like structure, it was less than two years later when it was renamed the Royal Princess Theatre. This was to honour Princess Alexandra of Denmark who had married into the British Royal Family in 1863. Eventually, the theatre just became known as the Theatre Royal.

On 4th November 1876, a new and improved theatre opened on the same site and boasted of New Zealand’s largest stage. On 20th November 1906, on land across the road, a new building was constructed. What opened was considered the finest of its kind in the southern hemisphere. After 15 months of work, the theatre opened to sold out crowds on the 25th February 1908. It’s this era’s facade that still graces the Gloucester Street frontage today.

Twenty years later in a city that loved a good flicker show, the theatre faced a new upgrade so movies could be played there. But by the late 20th century, the original use of a stage returned with greats such as Louis Armstrong, The Rolling Stones, Roy Orbison and ballet star Anna Pavlova entertaining us Cantabs there. Even Bob Parker took to the stage during his acting career.

In 1975, the theatre narrowly missed being demolished when 48 hours before the bulldozers were due; a last minute party stepped in. Even after this rescue, the theatre had limped along against the odds.
She is now, to the city of Christchurch, an icon of survival and restoration as she is one of the few heritage gems that came through the quakes of 2011. This was thanks to strengthening done during an upgrade in 1998. She was, before the quakes, New Zealand’s only operational Edwardian Theatre.

The Theatre was renamed to the Isaac Theatre Royal in 2005 to honour supporter, Lady Diana Isaac.

*image courtesy of the Canterbury Public Library – http://christchurchcitylibraries.com – File Reference CCL Photo CD 2, IMG0061

One Response

  1. John Sear says:

    The Theatre Royal is a wonderful asset not only in its historical Edwardian architectural design, it’s testament to the performing arts in Christchurch, but as one of the monuments for the residents of Christchurch as to the devastating quakes.

    Those who had the foresight in 1975 to “step up” and save the theatre deserve great admiration and applause for their efforts.

    The Isacc Theatre Royal is an absolute pleasure to perform in and I have been fortunate enough to sing there as a principal and soloist in what is an acoustically true theatre.

    Great article for an exceptionally fine theatre.

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