If you were performing at The Civic, I imagine you'd want to take careful note of directions between the dressing room and the stage and get a clear map to the exits, so you could leave without having to spend the night wandering a supposedly haunted theatre.

The building is a sizeable one but looking around the glorious 2378-seat theatre gives no realistic idea of the twists and turns, nooks and crannies behind the scenes.

Grand Opening, part of Auckland Live's Summer in the Square entertainment series, showed just how complicated Auckland's grandest building is, while sharing some of its history.

The theatrical journey through The Civic came courtesy of Wellington independent theatre company Barbarian Productions, led by award-winning theatre maker Jo Randerson and Thomas LaHood.


Why let a Wellington company loose in an Auckland landmark? Because Barbarian Productions has form in staging behind-the-scenes performances in an old theatre, notably Wellington's Opera House.

In Auckland, Randerson and LaHood, ably assisted by the city's theatre community, moved groups of 12 from floor to floor, room to room on two different 30-minute tours, each exposing secrets from the theatre's past. The set-ups were simple: ours featured new usher Natalie, who is desperate for a showbiz career. Her journey started on the ground floor under the watchful and somewhat malevolent eye of senior usher Eileen, who takes the other group in another direction.

Natalie is soon introducing a collection of weird and wonderful performers lurking in the alcoves and not-so-often-seen rooms of The Civic.

We met poets from the mysterious East, reflecting The Civic's Eastern-themed decor, the ghosts of American GIs who partied there during World War II and singing spectres recalling those halcyon days.

A group of nervous ushers in training morphed into a hammy theatre company and band; there was pause for thought and reflection under The Civic's starry sky which, after restoration in the 1990s, now reflects southern hemisphere constellations.

The assorted entertainment ended with a song and comedy routine courtesy of seniors theatre group Marvellous, who looked to be having a whale of a time.

While Grand Opening was

a chance to peer behind the stage curtain, more could have been made of The Civic's fascinating history and further details here and there wouldn't have gone amiss.


The performers threw themselves wholeheartedly into some funny and manic routines, but there was opportunity to develop a more cohesive narrative.

I hope The Barbarians get the chance to do something similar again.

Theatre review

What: Grand Opening
Where: The Civic
Reviewed by: Dionne Christian