The Christchurch earthquakes changed the city, the people, the environment but also the cultural scene, in ways we might not have considered. This book follows one story of persistence and courage. While the actual restoration of the Theatre Royal was undertaken and completed in 2005, in time to celebrate the centenary in 2008, the earthquakes forced further big decisions to be made.
This book follows the progress of the decision-making but also includes the personal stories of those most closely involved with the rebuild. Each section is divided into Acts which deal with a different part of the process. The early history is covered in the prologue. Originally, this book was planned as an extra chapter to be added to a later reprint of the Centennial book. However, there was so much information, and so many personal stories relating to the repairs, that a separate book was published. I felt this was a wise decision as this is a story of great courage against huge odds. The easy decision should have been to demolish, claim the insurance and start again. The visionary decision was to repair and rebuild, saving all the best features and allowing Christchurch theatre patrons a superb venue with modern convenience and historical gentility.
By having three authors, we are drawn closely in to the actual sequence of events. Each writer relates their part of the story. Anna Crichton discusses the historical importance of the theatre and the efforts made to preserve special features. Liz Grant looks at engineering, money and planning while Ian Lochhead, an architectural historian, gives the back story. The chapter headings really tell a story of their own: Anna Pavlova Danced Here, The Troubles, $40 million, Search and Salvage, Rebuild, Reconstruct, Restore, Before the Doors Opened and The Isaac Theatre Royal Takes Centre Stage.
As well as informative text there are superb illustrations and photographs used to show clearly the magnitude of the task. I found the personal stories added immediacy to the text. I understood the importance to these people of not just doing the job, but doing it well. I have had the pleasure of attending a number of events in the theatre and it is truly a beautiful place to be. Reading the story of how this came about is an important part of the rebuild of Christchurch. I am filled with admiration and praise for such a visionary group.
Reviewed by Kathy Watson
Recreating the Magic: The rebirth of a Christchurch theatre 2010-2015
by Anna Crighton, Liz Grant, Ian Lochhead
Published by Clerestory Press