Court Theatre (New Zealand)

The Court Theatre is a professional theatre company based in Christchurch, New Zealand. It was founded in 1971 and located in the Christchurch Arts Centre from 1976 until the February 2011 Christchurch earthquake. It opened new premises in Addington in December 2011. It is currently New Zealand's largest theatre company and is led by Chief Executive Barbara George and artistic director Ross Gumbley.


Founding and early years

The company was founded by Yvette Bromley QSM and Mervyn Thompson in 1971 who served as Co-artistic Directors for the first three years of the company.[1] Bromley chose the theatre's name out of affection for the Royal Court Theatre in London, which she knew well from her upbringing and drama education.[2]

During the first eighteen months of its existence, The Court had three venues. The first was The Stone Chamber of the Canterbury Provincial Council Chambers (April – May 1971), where The Court's début production, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie was staged.[2] Occasionally the Māori Land Court would require the use of the chamber, necessitating the set being struck and taken to the Durham Street Art Gallery; the furniture being moved back into the chamber and the processed reversed for the next evening's performance. The Stone Chamber was one of the city's most magnificent structures, but it was impractical for a theatre company, as there was little room for an audience and a lack of toilets.[2]

Next was the Durham Street Art Gallery (June 1971 – May 1972), which was used as an interim venue between the Canterbury Society of Arts vacating the premises and the Law Court expanding into the area.[2] From June to August 1972, The Court was housed in the Beggs Theatrette and staged two productions in the space.

The next four years (September 1972 – February 1976) were a period of relative stability. The Court Theatre was housed at The Orange Hall on Worcester Street. In 1974, Mervyn Thompson stood down leaving Yvette Bromley as sole Artistic Director until 1975 when Randall Wackrow (who had joined the company as Business Manager in 1973) joined her as Co-artistic Director.

The Arts Centre

In 1976, the company moved to the Christchurch Arts Centre complex, in the buildings which were formerly the Engineering School of Canterbury College. The performance space was previously lecture room D.[2]

From 1977 to 1978, Randall Wackrow served as sole Artistic Director, standing down in 1979 with the appointment of Elric Hooper. Hooper served as Artistic Director for more than two decades. Hooper declared his intent to balance the theatre's repertoire with "three main thrusts — the classic, the contemporary and the indigenous". Although economic pressure saw a fledgling second auditorium, Court Two, closed as a regular venue following the economic slump of the mid-eighties (although it was to be later revived as The Forge), overall this philosophy was rewarded.

As the new millennium approached, The Court saw growth across the board — in audiences, income and acclaim, and expanded its company with the introduction of Theatresports to Australasia in the late 1980s and the formation of professional improvisation troupe, The Court Jesters. In 1990, Hooper was awarded the MBE and the 1990 Commemoration medal by the Queen. Hooper retired as Artistic Director in 1999 and Catherine Downes served as Artistic Director of The Court Theatre from 2000–2005. Ross Gumbley has been The Court's Artistic Director from 2006.


The Farm[3]David Geary1998
Waiora[3]Hone Kouka1998
The Cripple of Inishmaan[3]Martin McDonagh1998
Amy's View[3]David Hare1998
The Jungle Book[3]Rudyard Kipling1998
The Killing of Sister George[3]Frank Marcus1999
Boys at the Beach[3]Alison Quigan & Ross Gumbley1999
Macbeth[3]William Shakespeare1999
Travesties[3]Tom Stoppard1999
Art[4]Yasmina Reza2000
The Diary of Anne Frank[4]Frances Goodritch & Albert Hacket2000
KiwiFruits 2[4]Carl Nixon2000
Copenhagen[4]Michael Fryan2000
Kiss Me, Kate[4]Cole Porter, Sam & Bella Spewack2000
The Beauty Queen of Leenane[4]Martin McDonagh2001
Serial Killers[4]David Griffin2001
Othello[4]William Shakespeare2001
Purapurawhetu[4]Briar Grace-SmithCathy Downes MNZM2001
The Face Maker[5]Stuart HoarCathy Downes2001
Take a Chance on Me[5]Roger HallMark Hadlow2001
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?[5]Edward AlbeeColin McColl2001
My Fair Lady[5]Alan Jay Lerner, Frederick LoeweCathy Downes, Richard Marrett2001
The Unexpected Man[5]Yasmina RezaCathy Downes2002
The Big OE[5]Alison Quigan & Ross GumbleyElizabeth Moody2002
The Cherry Orchard[5]Anton ChekhovColin McColl2002

Arts Centre premises

The Court operated two auditoria at the Arts Centre. Court One seated 291 in a broad 'semi-thrust' stage, staging at least eight productions each season totalling approximately 270 performances annually. Each season contained a mix of New Zealand works, modern international theatre and classics.

The Forge (formerly known as Court Two) seated 123 in a 'box' setting with the audience seated on two sides. Until recently it was used as a hosting venue by touring or independent productions, but since 2007 The Forge was used by the Court for staging challenging international, local and devised works, with an aim of attracting a different audience demographic from its Court One patronage.

Current role and activities

The Court Theatre employs professionals from around the country and internationally. It sustains a full-time professional staff and an ensemble acting company and is administered by The Court Theatre Trust. At any one time there can be up to 100 people working full-time at The Court Theatre.

In addition to being a full-time professional theatre company, The Court Theatre operates numerous other activities in the community. The company annually tours a show regionally around the South Island. Its education programme provides training for school-age students and adults, regularly liaising with high school and tertiary institutions as well as other community groups. The company also produces school holiday kids' shows and an annual touring primary school show.

Furthermore, the company employs a troupe of professional improvisors and corporate entertainers, The Court Jesters. The most public face of their work is the improv comedy show "Scared Scriptless" which is staged every Friday and Saturday night at The Court Theatre.


  1. "Christchurch's Theatre". Christchurch: Court Theatre. Archived from the original on 24 July 2011.
  2. Crean, Mike (22 October 2011). "Reliving Court's ties to landmark". The Press. p. C7. Retrieved 15 August 2015.
  3. "98 Season". Archived from the original on 9 November 1999. Retrieved 20 March 2014.
  4. "2000/2001 - The Court Theatre". Archived from the original on 17 February 2003. Retrieved 20 March 2014.
  5. "2001/2002 - The Court Theatre". Archived from the original on 20 December 2002. Retrieved 21 March 2014.

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