In 1878 The Theatre Royal was built on market gardening land by a company of Oddfellows. Nelson was a town of just 6,000 yet 1,000 people crammed in on opening night.
The façade originally had a veranda that extended out over the footpath, native timber was used throughout, with rough sawn planks where there is now corrugated iron. The Theatre Royal is the oldest wooden theatre still in use in the Southern Hemisphere.
In 1904 the veranda was removed, raked seats were put in the gallery, a projection box was added with a side entry from the outside as the Theatre was swept into the era of the Silver Screen.
By the ’30s the building was run down, and theatre was at a low ebb. In 1934 Nelson Repertory was formed, at first performing in the Majestic. In 1944 Repertory bought the Theatre Royal, saving it from conversion into a joinery shop!
The Theatre closed at the end of 2005 as such major maintenance was needed that it was no longer possible to get a licence to operate the building as a theatre.
The redevelopment aims were for international standard facilities for patrons and performers alike, while preserving the heritage values of the Theatre. Accordingly, preservation of materials, features and building elements were central to the project.
The grandeur of the 1878 auditorium has been being reinstated. Original hand-painted wallpaper was uncovered, new paper hand-made to match, and the colour palette returned to the original Victorian scheme. The seats in the dress circle are restored, and four period chandeliers installed. No stone was left unturned in restoring the historic atmosphere.
The refitted Theatre Royal boasts the added comforts of a computerised air conditioning system and fully restored seating. The refurbished Foyer has a new bar and toilet facilities.
For more information about the Theatre Royal, click here.