Recreating the Magic: The rebirth of a Christchurch theatre 2010-2015

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_recreating_the_magicThe 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
ISBN 9780992251741

Book Review: Leaving the Red Zone: Poems from the Canterbury earthquakes

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_leaving_the_red_zoneThe Garden City, the cathedral, the sight of cranes towering overhead—these things have all amalgamated into the image of what Christchurch is and has been. Leaving the Red Zone captures this blended image, presenting a collection of poems on the Canterbury earthquakes.

With a range of different writers in one collection, it was amazing to read such a selection of perspectives and emotional responses to the same event. Some writers use facts to try and understand Christchurch’s suffering; demographics become something structural, concrete, and real amidst the strangeness of a home turned to ruins. Keith Westwater employs the Richter scale to measure the effect of the earthquakes on both the earth and humans. It starts at “3.1… Felt by only a few” and finally moves to “6.1… Felt by all… Stoics grimace and those on edge start crying”.

Gravity is also an everyday concept turned strange in the rubble of collapsed buildings. Janet Wainscott asks, “how do we find and keep our footing here?” during the strange imposition of aftershocks that are constantly changing what used to be a stable home. Fixating on action and items becomes a reprise, even if, like Frankie McMillan, she becomes “another woman hurrying / home ticking off a list / candles, shelter, food and water”.

Many poems in Leaving the Red Zone describe interactions between not only friends and family, but also strangers. The title of Jeni Curtis’ piece says it all—Prayer For A Boy Whose Name I Never Found Out—the poem itself proving that even amid all the terror, there is a string of community. The question “Where were you when it struck?” becomes a point of reference for those who share the experience of the Canterbury earthquakes.

It also explores breaking points; C. M. Fitzgerald, writes “If I hear that damn word resilience / one more time, I will scream”, when the frustration of building herself back up over and over again becomes harder each time. Others poems question how ruined something has to be before you finally have no choice but to give up, and what it means to reach this breaking point. In her poem Possibilities Of The Now, Annette Chapman leaves with her “world packed in a moving van”, a departure that has layers of history behind it.

I was only fourteen when the 2011 earthquake struck. I had lived my whole life in Auckland, never been to Christchurch, and didn’t have family or friends there, so I am someone who has never felt the full effect of it. However, this collection makes Christchurch feel a little closer, through a whole chorus of voices that are joined together by memory.

The fact that Leaving the Red Zone cycles through the initial earthquake to aftershocks, the aftermath, and the promise of rebuild creates a full and rich narrative. Although many people have left Christchurch itself, the words of these poets persist in this collection; they are New Zealanders who are still attempting to understand this tragedy, years on from when the first quake struck.

Reviewed by Emma Shi

Leaving the Red Zone: Poems from the Canterbury earthquakes
edited by James Norcliffe and Joanna Preston
Published by Clerestory Press
ISBN 9780992251758