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March 1, 2004 | by  | in Theatre |
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Wellington Theatre Venues


Having survived a previous life as a 1930s dance hall, a raging fire and its proximity to the Royal Antidiluvian Order of Buffaloes (they’re right upstairs), BATS, at 1 Kent Tce, is now the archetypal centre of amateur theatre in Wellington. BATS has a policy of developing New Zealand and experimental theatre, and works to keep ticket prices low in order to attract younger (which obviously means poorer) Wellingtonians. BATS is the place to go to see exciting, boundary-pushing theatre made by young and enthusiastic dramatists with new and exciting vision for their craft. Given this, it’s unsurprising that BATS’s programme schedule is extremely diverse – you can go here to see everything from stand-up to experimental opera to straight drama to surrealism. Its theatre is small and sparse but well set out, and the seats are comfy. BATS is run by a heap of funky people and has a reasonably good café on the streetfront.


Circa Theatre, at 1 Taranaki St, is one of New Zealand’s seven professional theatres. That means that, along with Downstage (see below), it attracts the crème-de-la-crème of New Zealand and international theatre in Wellington. Attractively situated right on the waterfront, smack in front of Te Papa’s main entrance, Circa has two stages – the main theatre and the studio. Basically, the studio is smaller and plays are staged in either one depending on expected audience. Physically, Circa’s main theatre is a good size, intimate without being claustrophobic, though the set-up is not terribly versatile. The studio is a little more cramped, but still absolutely conducive to play-watching. Along with its two stages, Circa boasts Martin’s Bar and Café, which serves yummy meals, drinks and coffee from two hours before any show starts.


Downstage is New Zealand’s longest-running professional theatre, and it shows in the calibre of scripts, actors and production shown therein. It sits about 250 people in its single versatile, spacious theatre and is centrally located on the corner of Courtenay Place and Cambridge Tce., conveniently opposite Playmarket. It shows a variety of productions, from Shakespeare to Roger Hall to Dr. Seuss, and you can expect them to be generally excellent.

State Opera House

The rejuvenated Opera House is at 111-113 Manners St. Don’t let the name fool you – the Opera House actually doesn’t show a hell of a lot of opera anymore. It does have a musical focus, so you can expect to hear a lot of music there, from sources including straight musical acts, musical theatre and musical comedy, but it also acts as a venue for a wide variety of other acts. Drama, stand-up and ballet, to name a few, have all been known to grace the Opera House’s stage. The theatre is huge and not terribly well laid out – ask for a seat in the centre, not behind a pillar, and don’t even bother with the gods, cheap as they may be – but it is extremely ornately decorated and makes a fitting venue for larger, more bombastic acts.

Westpac St James Theatre

Built in 1912 as ‘His Majesty’s Theatre’ and tagged to – of all things – vaudeville, the St. James wallowed in disrepair and lack of funding until, in the mid-90s, the good people at Westpac decided to pump a whole lot of corporate dollars into it. Now the St. James, situated smack in the middle of Courtenay Place, opposite the Opera House, is home to the Royal New Zealand Ballet and has an amazing floor for dance productions, in which it specialises. It’s not cheap, but it is a beautiful and impressive space with great seating and incredible acoustics.

Studio 77

The local boards to tread for drama students wanting to cut their teeth. A stone’s throw away at 77 Fairlie Tce., the outside amphitheatre, although exposed to the elements and with hard concrete seats, has seen its fair share of performances, but the theatre inside has everything that budding performers should need to experiment with. Versatile and cosy, it’s not the most comfortable or accomodating venue (unless you like food from coin machines) but for value it can’t be beat – the shows will be amateur in everything but attitude.

Memorial Theatre

The other theatre on campus, off the Atrium in the Student Union Building, is used for everything from film screenings to award ceremonies, besides theatre. The seating is cinema-style, and there’s lots of it, so audience members towards the back might have a little trouble seeing and hearing all of the action. Close to Vicky’s and Eastside, it’s a hospitible enough location, and has been packed to many a night of Capping Revues, stand-up comedy and theatre sports, on top of purely theatrical shows.

Gryphon Theatre

A recent addition to the Wellington drama circuit, the Gryphon theatre, at 22 Ghuznee Street, was opened in March last year, and is the home of the long-established Stagecraft Theatre Inc. which has moved into the Gryphon from its aging former premises at the top of Cuba Street. It tends to play things at the Fringe Festival end of the scale, but that’s OK because the unpretensious interior is perfect for the job of letting drama take centre stage. If I recall correctly, the toilets get a pass mark too.

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