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: Migrant Journeys: New Zealand taxi drivers tell their stories

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

I finished this book feeling that I had just met a series of interesting strangers and cv_migrant_journeylistened to them summarise their life stories.

It is in some ways a simple book: a collection of interviews with fourteen migrant taxi drivers. These have been unobtrusively edited into first-person narratives that cover each person’s journey from their home country to New Zealand, through various changes in circumstances that eventually led them to take up taxi driving.

Each section starts with a brief profile of the participants, including some background about their country of origin and the reasons that they left. Those who became refugees or migrated in response to instability in their home countries have had some harrowing experiences. The fact that they are willing to talk about their pasts now indicates that they have some distance: the writers note at the start of the book that some of their potential interviewees pulled out of the project after finding that old memories were too painful for them. Others pulled out because they felt participating would not be acceptable to their communities, or would reflect badly on them professionally.

I appreciated the fact that the authors explained this at the start of the book: it acknowledges that their participants are not necessarily representative of the whole taxi driving sector (there are only two female participants, for example), although they are still diverse in origin and in their motivations. The introduction to the book also incorporates a helpful summary of New Zealand’s immigration context and the challenges currently faced by new migrants.

These are typical migrant stories in many respects: people move somewhere relatively safe, knowing that their own career prospects are uncertain but figuring that their children will have better opportunities from being educated here. Taxi driving is not a bad option for many, and some of the people who tell their stories here are proud of their own entrepreneurship in this sector: several owners and managers of taxi companies have been interviewed. A number also express frustration about the apparent unwillingness of New Zealand employers to take on people with foreign qualifications or names.

The participants all have their own theories as to why their preferred jobs are difficult to come by, and most seem very philosophical. There are some very sharp intellects on display here – people who are well qualified, well informed and bring interesting perspectives about social issues in New Zealand and in the countries where they have been. Reading the accounts together, I got an overall sense of how overseas-born taxi drivers see New Zealanders: we’re mostly kind, honest people, to the point of being slightly naïve. Sometimes ignorant about the rest of the world, and unaware of how good we have it here. Not at our best when we drink.

Although I felt the book ended somewhat abruptly – there is no conclusion, the stories just finish – upon reflection I don’t think it needed a conclusion. The stories speak for themselves.

A couple made me laugh out loud, others were compellingly dramatic and some have some very quotable soundbites. Every narrative gave me the impression that follows a good conversation with a new person: That person seems cool. I am glad I heard their story. I learned something. The authors’ stated aim in publishing this book is to “contribute to a wider understanding of what it is like to leave your home country and work hard to settle in a new land”. These stories remind us why it is so important to listen to each other.

Migrant Journeys: New Zealand taxi drivers tell their stories
by Adrienne Jansen and Liz Grant
Published by Bridget Williams Books
ISBN 9781927277331

Reviewed by Rebecca Gray, author of The First Door that Opened