Anna Crighton, Liz Grant and Ian Lochhead – Recreating the Magic

t. 88, CLEINE, J. on RecreatingthemagicCover1

Recreating the Magic by Anna Crighton, Liz Grant and Ian Lochhead.
Christchurch: Clerestory Press (2016).
RRP: $39.95. + postage.
Sb with flaps, illus., 104pp.
ISBN: 9780992251741.

Reviewed by Judith Cleine.

It was a happy decision when The Isaac Theatre Royal Board, with Clerestory Press, chose to expand an additional chapter (researched by Christopher Moore of The Press) for a reprint of The Theatre Royal, Christchurch. An illustrated History (2008), into a post-2011 earthquake publication in its own right.1

On superior matt finish that sustains the colour illustrations beautifully, Recreating the Magic offers a striking account of the ethos and reconstruction of a Grand Old Christchurch Lady – rebuilt from façade to proscenium arch at a cost of NZ$40M. Arranged as ‘Prologue’ by Dr Ian Lochhead, ‘Chorus’, ‘Acts 1–V’ and ‘Epilogue’ by Dr Anna Crighton and Liz Grant,  the book’s content achieves a succinct and accessible blend of historical research and passion rooted in the arts. Photographs (many came from Theatre Royal archives) generously illustrate every page and stage of this thespian restoration, from ‘Anna Pavlova danced in this theatre’ (1926), to workmen’s luncheon oyster shells excavated from the foundations; the restoration of the dome (with its Italianate painting of scenes from ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ by G C Post of the Carrara Ceiling Company of Wellington), and the rediscovery of an original chandelier, which – after some determined debate – now graces the grand marble staircase of the theatre.2

The bricks-and-plaster details of this story make fascinating and instructional reading.
The acres of actual and bureaucratic red tape add drama and tension. Between the covers readers will discover the sheer bloody-minded passion of all those who fought to save an unashamedly, gilt-and-gorgeous Edwardian heritage building from the bulldozers – the heart and soul of this story and more. Here is a first-rate publication3, celebrating not only the restored theatre itself (re-opened November 17th, 2014), but also a testament to the healing of a broken city.

1 See: The Theatre Royal, an illustrated history, ISBN: 9780958288804 (Clerestory, 2008) with more than 300 illustrations, including rare B&W photographs from collections around the country, glorious colour photographs of the theatre’s splendid interior, and historic posters and material reproduced from theatre programmes. Clerestory Press’s previous publications include ‘The Arts Centre of Christchurch, Then and Now’, ‘Round the Square’, ‘Brief Encounters’ (memorable Canterbury lawyers), ‘The Little Theatre’, and 15 annual editions of Re-Draft – a School for Young Writers series.

2 Originally a wooden building, it opened in Gloucester Street in 1863 (over the road from the present building) and was called the Canterbury Music Hall. It later became the Royal Princess Theatre and then, after refurbishment, the Theatre Royal.

3 A useful index and an impressive list of awards complete the book.


Judith Cleine (Philosophy and Comparative Religion, UC, 1974); professional actress and ex-wardrobe mistress (Court Theatre). Theatre and book reviewer for The Press, The Southland Times. Judy was a semi-finalist in Harper Collins’ Australian HQ/Flamingo Annual Short Story Competition (1997) with The Three Sisters – a play on Chekhov and female survival. She is currently writing a hopefully amusing novel about deranged croquet players.

First published takahe 87
August 2016