Dilapidation to delight - 'The Vic' theatre five years on gallery

Devonport's 103-year-old Victoria Theatre is believed to be New Zealand's oldest purpose-built theatre still standing.
SIMON MAUDE/FAIRFAX NZ

Devonport's 103-year-old Victoria Theatre is believed to be New Zealand's oldest purpose-built theatre still standing.

Margot McRae thought she would do something "small" and "quiet" to help rescue a run-down treasure.

Instead, years later, the Devonport resident remains at the heart of efforts to continue restoring 'The Vic' theatre.

Fundraising efforts to activate a promised grant exceeded expectations, the co-chairperson of the Victoria Theatre Trust says.

Before she was 'Lorde', then 12, Ella Yelich-O'Connor performed at The Vic's re-opening gala.
STEPHEN PERRY

Before she was 'Lorde', then 12, Ella Yelich-O'Connor performed at The Vic's re-opening gala.

"North Shore City Council said they'd give us $150,000, but only if we raised $50,000 . . . we actually raised about $86,000," McRae says.

The trust had its work cut-out rescuing the derelict theatre.

Rows of unusable vinyl seating cluttered a theatre with no working projectors below a roof that leaked, McRae says.

Restoring The Vic is a work in progress say Margot McRae and Philipp Jaser.
SIMON MAUDE/FAIRFAX NZ

Restoring The Vic is a work in progress say Margot McRae and Philipp Jaser.

"It was wonderful, we had about 70 people who came in and did working bees."

In October, 2010, the oldest remaining purpose-built theatre in New Zealand re-opened with a gala evening.

On the red carpet as one of the night's performers was a then unknown 12-year-old Ella Yelich-O'Connor, aka 'Lorde', McRae remembers.

Theatre manager Philipp Jaser says apart from daily movie sessions, the theatre in its short revival has boasted a who's who of revered New Zealand performers.

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Jaser ranks Greg Johnson and jazz impresario Nathan Haines as his favourites amongst many great acts.

A couple of the theatre's first years were a "bit dicey", but its future looks good, Jaser says.

"From when we started we've probably has a steady [audience] growth of 10 to 20 per cent per year, that's because we've had a host of performers including live shows."

"I can't stress enough how amazing our audiences are especially families, once they've experienced the charm of the building they keep coming back."

Reviving the 103-year-old theatre has awakened what was a "dead part" of Victoria Rd, he says.

"It was quiet, nothing seemed to work, [the theatre] being opened led to a renaissance on the upper end of the street."

Working with the newly created Devonport Business Improvement District to make the theatre a "destination" is important, Jaser says.

The Vic is a work in progress and more is about to be done restoring it and relaunching fundraising efforts, Jaser and McRae say.

"We've got a long term plan . . . we're fundraising for new seats, sound insulation and generally making the place a lot more comfortable," McRae says.

 - Stuff

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