Auckland is home to some wonderful theatre venues, from the historic to the modern, the soulless to the characterful. As places I visit most weeks they’re familiar and reassuring spaces, reimagined by every show to contain for an hour or two a new world in miniature.
Basement Theatre, CBD
As a writer for their blog and regular visitor I have a slight bias, but the Basement Theatre does live up to its old tag line of “a theatre, a bar, a community”. It shows at least 50 shows a year (usually more), of which at least half are brand new. There are two theatres, usually the early shows are upstairs, which seats 75 people, later shows in the 110 capacity downstairs theatre. There is no allocated seating, making it perfect for bringing groups to, and look out for artwork in the bar from the Wallace Arts Trust.
Typical shows: every possible genre from drama to comedy to dance to opera, often experimental to some degree, relatively small casts (four people or fewer), rarely more than an hour-long, and usually only on for five nights, sometimes ten nights. There are a number of regular events including Friday night improv comedy with Down to Clown and Snort, the monthly Watercooler and Live Reel, and one-off events. It also hosts shows during the Fringe, Pride and NZ International Comedy Festivals.
Price range: never more than $25, often less, particularly on Wednesdays
Q Theatre, CBD
A brilliant addition to the Auckland theatre scene since it opened in 2011 (after 15 years of effort), Q Theatre offers a happy medium between the low-budget experimentalism of the Basement and more mainstream fare. It has three theatres, the Rangatira seating up to 450 people, the Loft upstairs for ~110 people, and the rarely used Vault downstairs for 60. The bar / restaurant area offer some of the best value food in the city, though often needs a booking, particularly before shows, and the toilets downstairs are award winning!
Typical shows: productions from established theatre companies including Indian Ink, Auckland Theatre Company, Silo Theatre and Massive Company. It also hosts events during the Tempo dance, Auckland Arts, NZ International Comedy and Documentary Edge Festivals.
Price range: typically between $20 and $60
The Civic, CBD
The most beautiful theatre in the country, if originally built as a cinema in the 1930s, and the largest surviving atmospheric cinema in Australasia. The largest theatre venue in the country, seating 2,378 people in endlessly long rows, if you’re sitting in the middle don’t arrive late!
Typical shows: mainly musicals (Cats, Wicked, Phantom of the Opera) and occasionally plays like the recent To Kill A Mockingbird. Also hosts gigs, talks, comedy, and of course the New Zealand International and Autumn Film Festivals.
Price range: typically from $60 upwards
Skycity Theatre, CBD
This 700 seat venue is one of my least favourite to be honest, the acoustics require actors to wear microphones, the leg room is limited, and access is either through the casino (who are not a fan of people carrying bags) or via a lift from the car park. It has hosted some great events though, mostly recently the brilliant That Bloody Woman.
Typical shows: with the Maidment out of action (see below) Auckland Theatre Company have moved most of their shows here before the ASB Waterfront Theatre opens late 2016. It’s also used during the New Zealand International Film and Comedy Festivals.
Price range: typically from $45 upwards
Herald Theatre, CBD
An oddly laid out theatre, with seating for 186 people tiered as steeply as a Mayan pyramid. I’ve seen some great shows there but the venue doesn’t have a lot of character, with a car park entrance right outside the front door. The foyer is quite funky though, with good seating and a small outdoor area.
Typical shows: recently a lot of Silo theatre productions (Medea, Hudson & Hall) plus shows such as Everest Untold, though the Herald only hosts around half a dozen productions a year
Price range: typically between $35 and $60
Pumphouse Theatre, Takapuna
Treads the line between community theatre (see below) and professional theatre, housed in a fabulous converted 1905 pumping station by Lake Pupuke, that seats about 190 people.
Te Pou, New Lynn
The relatively recently opened (April 2015) home of Maori theatre, housed in a funky industrial unit in New Lynn, with a lobby area seemingly as large as the theatre itself. It’s a good space but next to basketball courts, which can be heard somtimes, the squeak of rubber on wood and put put of the ball, slightly distracting…
Mangere Arts Centre, Mangere
I’ve only been to see Massive Company productions here. It feels a more fitting venue than when they perform in the CBD, with great energy from the majority Maori / Polynesian audience.
TAPAC, Western Springs
Auckland’s performing arts centre, seating up to 160 people, by Auckland Zoo and Western Springs. It operates as a performing arts school, rehearsal space and performance venue.
Typical shows: various, to be honest I’ve only been once to see a musical
Price range: typically between $20 and $45
Maidment Theatre, CBD
One of the best theatre spaces (other than leg room) in the city, a good size at 450 seats, and long time home of Auckland Theatre Company. It is handicapped by being located on the University of Auckland campus, ironically devoid of any nightlife, and suffered fire damage in 2013. As of December 2015 it closed due to earthquake risk, with seismic strengthening required, and even if fixed I can’t see it returning to its former prominence given the upcoming opening of the ASB Waterfront Theatre. Shame as I saw some great productions here including Red and Death of a Salesman.
ASB Waterfront Theatre, Wynyard Quarter
The new home of Auckland Theatre Company, opening late 2016, located behind the ASB Building in Wynyard Quarter. Providing a permanent home big enough for their popularity it will be interesting how it fares away from the current Aotea theatre precinct. It certainly looks flash from the outside and at 600 seat capacity it fills a gap in theatre venues.
Wasn’t till I started writing this that I discovered quite how many community theatres there are in Auckland. Seemingly most areas have their own local theatre, many of which have been running for over fifty years, longer than most professional theatres. Here’s a non-exhaustive list…
- Howick Little Theatre
- TheatreWorks in Birkenhead
- Titirangi Theatre
- Stables Theatre in Ellerslie
- Off Broadway Theatre in Papakura
- Dolphin Theatre in Onehunga
- Centrestage Theatre in Orewa
- Playhouse Theatre in Glen Eden
- The Rose Centre in Belmont
- Harlequin Musicial Theatre in Howick
- Harrington Theatre in Pukekohe
Finally The Globe was hugely successful in early 2016, with a pop-up replica of the second Globe Theatre appearing in the carpark outside the Basement. It had a limited duration though and the site has since returned to a carpark, clearly the highest and best use of central Auckland land…