Canterbury’s First Dramatic Production – 23rd July 1857

On 23rd July 1857, two hundred Cantabs, from all over the Province, crammed into the Lyttelton Town Hall to watch Canterbury’s first dramatic presentation. With the actors and actresses introduced by producer Mr. Foley, a grand production followed of ‘The Loan of a Lover’ and ‘Betsy Baker’. Recalling the loud applause of that evening, a ‘Lyttelton Times’ reporter confidently reviewed that Lyttelton’s acting company would have no problems filling seats for their next production.

The following year, Christchurch’s Town Hall on Sumner Road (High Street) hosted a similar evening. The Canterbury Music Hall opened in 1859 at the current site of the new ‘Press’ offices on Gloucester Street. When rebuilt in the 1870’s, the Theatre moved across the road and her history continues today’- after further numerous restorations – as the Isaacs Theatre Royal.

New Zealand’s first dramatic presentation – ‘The Lawyer Outwitted’ – took place in the back room of the Watson’s Hotel, on High Street, Auckland. Romantically referred to as the ‘Albert Theatre’, this greatly upgraded suite made history on Christmas Day 1841.

The first purpose-built theatre was constructed on Manners Street, Wellington on 12th September 1843, just taking over two months to be build. It was called the ‘Royal Victoria’.

It does seem like Canterbury took her time to embrace the performing arts but from our very first homes, guests who could play an instrument or sing were always in high demand for all private parties and dinners. Charlotte Godley – the wife of Canterbury Founder, John Robert Godley – wrote the following home to England on 27th May 1851.

“Then we had luncheon, our own dinner, for about as many as could sit down in our room…and then the gentlemen of the Glee Club volunteered to give us some of their performances (really very good) until it got dark and we could have the magic-lantern, which was to conclude the festivity”.

Please note the attached photo was not taken in New Zealand.

*Quote courtesy of ’Letters From Early New Zealand’ by Charlotte Godley*
*Image courtesy of the Cabinet Card Gallery –*


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