Restoration of 'grand old lady' labour of love

CHARLIE GATES
Last updated 05:00 17/08/2013
Daniel Tobin

Charlie Gates takes a look at whats involved with the restoration of the dome in the Theatre Royal.

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The historic dome that hung above the Isaac Theatre Royal auditorium is being painstakingly restored by a team of Italian conservation specialists.

Restoration of the painted dome is an intricate part of the $30 million rebuild of the Isaac Theatre Royal, which is expected to open again in the middle of next year.

The foyer and auditorium have been demolished and are being rebuilt, but the historic facade, marble foyer staircase and dome have all been preserved, along with the round leaded windows from the auditorium.

The foyer and auditorium interior will be carefully re-created to their original state once the new concrete and steel structure is complete. The backstage area, which was rebuilt in 2005, is largely intact.

The painted dome was removed from the earthquake-damaged ceiling of the theatre, sealed in plastic and suspended above the stage last year.

Now, the dome has been lowered to the new stage floor at the back of the half rebuilt theatre, where it is being carefully restored.

Art conservator Carolina Izzo and her team have taken over the theatre's former green room to restore the dome.

The eight painted canvases are being carefully removed for restoration. Glue and plaster dust is gently scraped from the back of the canvas and then the paintings are cleaned. The canvases are in good condition, although there are small patches of mould, and the lights that illuminated the dome have burnt small holes in the edges.

The mould will be removed and the holes will be patched with new material to prevent further tearing. The patches will not be visible behind the coving of the dome once the canvas is reinstalled.

The dome features Italianate paintings of scenes from A Midsummer Night's Dream and was installed in 1908. Izzo said the paintings had held up well and the ''quality of the painting was really strong''.

Architect Vanessa Carswell, an associate at Warren and Mahoney, said restoring the Theatre Royal was very complex.

''It's a grand old lady. We wanted to retain what everyone had loved about the building,'' she said.

''It would have been much cheaper and easier to build a new theatre on the same site, but it is good for the rebuild of Christchurch that we have these physical representations of what was here before.

''We don't just want a clear slate. It is a beautiful building.''

''This has been more complex than any other building I have ever worked on and I have worked on much larger projects than this.''

Theatre Royal chief executive Neil Cox said the dome restoration project was inspiring.

''It is absolutely unique. It is the only 100-year-old canvas of this size in the country,'' he said.

''These are things you would never dream of being involved in. I find it very invigorating. We are creating something that will be spectacular. It will be awe-inspiring.''

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- The Press

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