Taranaki Electricity Trust King’s Theatre – Birthplace of the ‘Talkies’ in the Southern Hemisphere

Stratford is the home of an important part of cinematography history!
For some time the town could boast the existence of two separate theatres, a feat that was not common in other small towns. Interestingly, it is the oldest of the two that still exists and is operational today.
In June 1916, there was a steering meeting held of Stratford Pictures and Amusement, the aim of which was to raise £8000 for the purchase of the Mountain Motors site from Mrs Diamond. The first general meeting was held in October that year and plans were subsequently made for the removal and construction of a new building. In 1917 the name “King’s” was approved and the Theatre was opened on 28 December.
The  theatre has a unique   cinematic history, as it was the first in the Southern Hemisphere to play the ‘Talkies”-films with sound. On 1 April 1927, the publication of the ‘Amusements’ proclaimed: ‘Tonight at the King’s Theatre the first public screening of the De Forest Phonofilm will be given and the public owe it to themselves as intelligent people intelligently interested in any event affecting their interests, to be present at the initial public demonstrations in the Southern hemisphere of the most remarkable scientific achievement of the last half-century.’
In 1934 the Plaza Theatre was opened and thus began Stratford’s time of two theatres running.

Inevitably though, television took its toll and the King’s Theatre was closed for a period of time while the Plaza flourished. However, in September 1969, it was decided to sell the Plaza Theatre (which was on the corner of Broadway and Regan Street where the Taranaki Farmers is now) and some of the seating from that theatre was to be transferred to the Regent (as the King’s was called then).
And so the King’s Theatre was re-opened in November 1969, after being remodelled and renovated throughout.
The opening was celebrated with Broadway being spot-lit with coloured lighting and a parade of official guests rode in vintage cars along the street below. The Eltham Marching Girls and Stratford Pipe Band also paraded along the street to the Theatre, where the Stratford Citizens Band was playing.
It seemed that the theatre would thrive again, and so it did for another 17 years. However, in 1986 it was decided they would shut their doors once more, if the patronage did not improve. This happened in September, and many thought that this might be the end of King’s Theatre’s proud 68-year history.
In March 1992 King’s Theatre once again opened, and in November they received a Lotteries Board grant to the value of $20,000. This money was awarded to renovate the Theatre, developing it into a live theatre venue as well as a movie theatre. Construction was to include a new stage and dressing rooms, fire exits, and a foldaway movie screen. Also the façade was repainted.
In 1994, this was further improved with new toilet facilities being built under the auditorium.
Today, King’s Theatre is still open to the public. It is in beautiful condition and is proudly carrying on the work it started 92 years ago.
King’s Theatre is part of the Stratford Heritage Walk, and for more information regarding this or any other heritage site in Stratford you can contact the Stratford Information Centre for all information on the walkway.

- Stratford Press

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