Hadrian VII

On Feb 21, 1976, the Court Theatre finally opened in its new premises, on the former town site of the University of Canterbury. Finally settling down in such satisfactory premises must have been a source of great relief to everyone concerned with The Court, which has gone through five different buildings in as many as years: the inconveniences suffered by The Court in buildings as diverse as the Orange Hall, Begg's Theatrette, the Provincial Council Chambers, and the former Durham Street Art Gallery, must have been much greater than anything faced by any of New Zealand other new professional theatres. Consequently, it seems equitable that if the new Court Theatre is not exactly the Hannah Playhouse Mark II, then it is at least better than the theatre buildings Downstage moved through en route to the Playhouse. When Grotowski was here, I tried to get him to comment on the Hannah Playhouse, but he refused to talk in such specific terms. However, he did say that for him an essential requirement for a theatre building is atmosphere, and on this criterion the new theatre must score highly: everywhere you look, tradition and graffiti scream back at you from behind the newly-applied curtains and paint. The new theatre is mainly the work of Stewart Ross, a Christchurch actor and architect, and Randell Wackrow, The Court's director who is shortly leaving for a study tour overseas. For its capacity and structure (see the last ACT), it is extremely intimate theatre, with plenty of space on higher levels for costume rooms, dressing rooms, offices, and rehearsal areas: The Court has the whole of the building which, for former Canterbury students, was known as the Room D block. The old university is now collectively known as the Christchurch Arts Centre, housing all manner of artistic organisations, and so both time and place seem propitious for a good deal of artistic cross-fertilisation. And the play The Court chose for the opening? Peter Luke's Hadrian VII, the play we all reeled at when we read it in the mid-sixties, but which few got round to staging. At the Court, it came across as an excellent vehicle for Elric Hooper and Fred Betts, and an appropriately ambitious work in terms of stagecraft, which, in Randell Wackrow's hands, left us all wondering at the potential of the new theatre.