In 1878 the Theatre Royal was built on market gardening land by a company of Oddfellows. Nelson at that time was a town of just 6,000 people, and 1,000 crammed in on opening night.
In 1904 the veranda was removed, the mud floors were covered, the old wooden benches were replaced by turn-up seats, raked seats were put in the gallery, and a projection box was added as the Theatre was swept into the era of the Silver Screen. By the 1930's the building was run down, and the 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!
Need to upgrade
Over the years the Theatre became increasingly rundown. The building 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. So began a major project to restore and improve the Theatre Royal.
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 31 May 2010 official reopening followed 10 years of fundraising and two and a half years of rebuilding and restoring the Theatre Royal to its full glory, preserving its heritage for future generations.
The grandeur of the 1878 auditorium was 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 were restored, and four period chandeliers installed. No stone was left unturned in restoring the historic atmosphere.
Peeling back the layers to reveal the original beauty was no easy task. The hard work and vision for the Theatre is here for everyone to see and enjoy. We are proud to offer you a fully restored heritage theatre with 21st century staging, front of house and back stage facilities.
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.
Back of House
A three story tilt slab concrete structure forms the stage, fly tower and orchestra pit, plus dressing, wardrobe and rehearsal rooms, replacing a single story with lean-to structure. The latest developments in lighting and sound technology are employed backstage as well as a counterweighted scenery flying system.
Nelson Historic Theatre Trust
The Theatre Royal is owned and operated by the Nelson Historic Theatre Trust. The Trust was incorporated as a charitable trust on 23 August 2001, and registered as a charitable entity with the Charities Commission on 3 July 2008.
The Trust’s Vision
To furnish international standard facilities for patrons and performers alike, while preserving the heritage values of the Theatre.
The Trust’s Purpose
To ensure the successful operation of the fully restored Theatre for the people of and visitors to the region. To support the presentation of national and international touring shows, as well as local theatre companies, school productions, dance schools and other shows that the whole community will benefit from and be proud of.
Mark Christensen: Chair
Alex McNamara: Trustee
Samuel Mullins: Trustee
Steve Thomas: Trustee
Jan Trayes: Trustee
Yolande Tzinavos: Trustee
Molly Brealey: Nelson Repertory Theatre representative
Stuart Yank: Nelson Repertory Theatre representative