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Speech

25 year celebrations of The Court Theatre

Issue date: 
Saturday, 20 April 1996
Speaker: 
The Rt Hon Sir Michael Hardie Boys, GNZM, GCMG, QSO

All the world may be a stage; but the portrayal of all the parts, and all the seasons that are played out on it, falls to the lot - the happy lot - of only a few. And for 25 years, some of those few have come and gone on this stage, some trailing clouds of glory, others going with a whimper, but all contributing to the cultural life of this city.

Christchurch has a rich cultural life and for 25 years, the Court Theatre has been one of the city's principal treasures. And so, as a sometime resident of Christchurch who has enjoyed many shows at the Court, as well as in a wider representative capacity, it is a great pleasure to be here tonight to salute the Company's achievements.

For a theatre company to survive in New Zealand, especially for an entire quarter century, is in itself a noteworthy achievement: one remembers with considerable sadness other companies that have fallen by the wayside in even comparatively recent times.

So the evidence seems to be that theatrical survival for twenty five years is a run against all the odds. That the Court Theatre Company has not only survived, but continues to thrive, is therefore of enormous credit to many, many people - actors, producers, directors, all those who are involved in every production. It says something too, about Christchurch itself. Might I reassure you though, that in saying this, I'm not merely alluding to the City's tradition of tolerance of the eccentric: no!

For two and a half decades, the Company's productions have entertained, have sometimes provoked and have, on many occasions, uplifted past and present audiences. What we have seen tonight maintains that tradition. It is a first class production, funny, although I know that some have been upset, even distressed, by the play. But I think the ability to laugh about things, our institutions, is not only healthy but often a saving grace. Ridicule is different - it is destructive. The Queen and I is not in that category. The fun has a purpose - it highlights the plight of those who are suddenly left to fend for themselves, without the physical or emotional resources to manage. That is a significant social problem we must address.

The quarter century is eloquent testimony to the Company's enduring command of the two different kinds of proficiency that are needed to put, and keep, shows on stage. They are: consistently-competent management, and artistic accomplishment. These are, I suggest, the only two qualities yet discovered, that will keep both wolves, and critics, from the stage door.

Many actors will know the sort of thing I'm talking about in that regard - you can accept criticism that is helpful, but it's hard not to dread the remark like the one directed at the lead in a London performance of King Lear many years ago. A newspaper noted that, through all five acts, this actor played the King as though under the mounting apprehension that someone else was about to play the ace.

Nor does theatrical management ever seem to have had an easy time of it, anytime, anywhere. Even the most illustrious of companies may acquire devoted fault finders. Take the Old Vic, for instance.

Sir John Gielgud tells of an old woman who was a fan of the Old Vic for years. She was memorable because at the end of each performance she attended, she would sing "God Save the King," in a very loud, cracked voice.

All the Old Vic performers knew her as Miss Pilgrim and she used to write fan letters to them. One or two years after Gielgud's time with the company, Tyrone Guthrie became director - I don't know if you remember his name but he was certainly famous in his time. Guthrie brought in stars like Charles Laughton, Athene Seyler, Flora Robson and James Mason. One night, Miss Pilgrim went to the stage door and asked the cast to sign their autographs for her as they left. The next day, the cast found out that the sheet of paper the woman had used, had been folded over: on the top half of the sheet, she had written a demand to the Company's Governors that Tyrone Guthrie be sacked.

As it happens, I'm not sure that there's a lesson in this anecdote for the Court Theatre, beyond the observation that singing the national anthem is still a difficult, even undesirable, feat for anyone with a loud cracked voice. Certainly, there can be no reflection on the superb direction of those who have worked here and particularly, tonight, Ulric Hooper.

Be that as it may, on behalf of all New Zealanders who love the theatre and on behalf of all Cantabrians who've come to applaud the Court Theatre Company for twenty five years, congratulations. I'm delighted to join in this celebration tonight, in the confident hope that the Court Theatre's next twenty five years will be as thoroughly creditable as the first. Kia ora katoa.

Last updated: 
Friday, 9 January 2009

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