Anzac Day at Raetihi's Royal Theatre will be celebrated once again with an original play performed by the Phoenix Players.

It is written by director Phyl Cameron and Ruapehu mayor Don Cameron will play a role.

Over the past 15 years Phyl Cameron has headed the Phoenix Players theatre group which now has around 60 members, "which is remarkable for a town this small".

The company presents three productions a year and keen local thespians always line up at auditions, she said.


"I never have a problem casting a show. In fact I usually have to ensure it's a production with plenty of parts. The pantomime I always write for Christmas always has a huge cast."

The Royal Theatre was built in 1915 by local sawmiller John F Punch. He arrived in Raetihi in April 1893 and set up his sawmill next door to where the theatre would be in Seddon St.

Phyl said she believes the theatre is the oldest cinema in New Zealand and is a great venue.

"We even rehearse there. We don't need special rehearsal rooms. "

Support for her productions is always strong, she said.

"There is very little live entertainment in this area, so people from Ohakune and Raetihi all come along. They really support us."

Their mid-year play last year, Stiff, by New Zealand playwright April Phillips, was so popular their six performances weren't enough, she said.

"We had huge audiences and could've extended the season, but everyone was too tired. It was amazing ."

Next month's special Anzac Day production War Times Five is five short plays set in Germany, Britain, America, Japan and Poland, each play featuring a family.

Phyl was busy writing the plays while on holiday over the Christmas holidays in Tasmania.

"I wrote in the airports, on the planes, in cafes, everywhere. I had this idea and I had to write it."

A small choir will also sing special wartime songs from each country with each play, she said.

Songs like Keep the Home Fires Burning, Red Sails in the Sunset, Pack Up Your Troubles, Chattanooga Choo Choo ("to illustrate the ra-ra attitude of America"), Run Rabbit Run, The White Cliffs of Dover and Lili Marlene.

At the close of all five nostalgic plays the choir will sing Now is The Hour, and a young local girl, a bugler will play the Last Post from upstairs at the back of the theatre, Phyl said.

"It will be quite chilling, especially in that old building."

The old theatre has always had great social significance for this once pretty isolated community, she said.

"It has always been an important part of Raetihi and is the home of the Phoenix Players."