An article in the Nelson Evening Mail of November 2 1946 states the Theatre Royal to have been built by the ”two Oddfellows Lodges . . . to provide a theatre . . . and to serve as a meeting place for members . . .” in fact these Lodges did not build it and they already had a meeting house built on the next site in 1854. The Colonist of May 16th 1878 gives a careful and admiring description of the theatre then nearing completion and states it to have been built ”by a company, chiefly composed of Oddfellows” and the certificates of title show the owner of part of the land in 1878 to have been Samuel Bolton who owned a market garden where the Army Department is today. Sam Bolton sold to the trustees of the Loyal Howard and Loyal Nelson Lodges in 1884 and was manager until the trustees sold it in 1905.
The 1890s saw the Theatre Royal in frequent use with a great variety of entertainment. Melodrama, unrivalled baritones, and the first intimations of the art of film and projection that was later nearly to eclipse theatre. The Montague-Turner English Opera Company staged five different operas in five nights, a staging challenge as the fly tower had not yet been built over the stage and even the boxes and corridors had not been added. All the same, between Saturday October 15 1892 and the following Thursday Nelsonians could see Maritana, Trovatore, Bohemian Girl, Faust and Martha all for as little as 10/-.
Nelson Repertory Club was formed in October 1934. In 1944 became an incorporated society. They took the plunge and bought the Theatre Royal thereby almost certainly saving it as a theatre. Hugh Leggatt, Gordon Kirk, J.W. Russell – these were some of the men behind this enterprising move.
The 21st Century….
“In 2001 the Nelson Historic Theatre Trust was formed to take ownership of the building and raise funds for and conduct a comprehensive refurbishment. This involved building a new fly tower with modern, state-of-the-art stage and backstage facilities, also restoring the Auditorium and Front of House to its former glory. The $6.4m project was completed in 2010 and the Theatre Royal has since become one of NZ’s busiest community theatres.”
Part of the terms of the arrangement were that Nelson Repertory Theatre Inc would occupy a committee room, rehearsal space and associated construction areas, for life.
Nelson Repertory Theatre Inc has its home, its base, in the heart of the Theatre Royal at 78 Rutherford Street, Nelson.