College connections to Court Theatre centre stage

22 Jul 2021

From treading the boards to sharing the storied history of The Court Theatre, Old Boy Derek Hargreaves MNZM (6403) continues to play a major role in the Christchurch arts.

His remarkable memory and attention to detail form the backbone of a new book, History of The Court Theatre, co-written with fellow long-time patron Felicity Price and published by the Court Theatre Trust to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the theatre.

The book traces the history of the theatre from its early day – through many stages and homes – and features leading actors and outstanding plays.

It is also packed with interviews with key players throughout the decades, and includes well-known College Old Boys from across the years.

“My focus was to tell the story not only of the productions and people, but also the dramas – both offstage and on stage – before they were forgotten,” Derek says.

He adds that there has been an amazing array of theatre connections with Christ’s College over the past 50 years – right from the start in 1971.

“The College connection came through Yvette Bromley, who produced plays for some years for the Christ’s College Dramatic Society in the 1950s,” Derek says.

“I appeared in three College productions, starting with The Winslow Boy by Terence Rattigan playing the title role, Ronnie Winslow. The following year there was a huge production of A Christmas Carol – adapted by Yvette from the Charles Dickens novel – in which I played Ebenezer Scrooge’s cheerful nephew, Fred.

“In my last year, 1959, I played Captain Bluntschli in George Bernard Shaw’s Arms and the Man, also featuring a young Chris McVeigh (6791) playing Raina.

“Twelve years later, Yvette set about forming a professional theatre company in Christchurch to be known as The Court Theatre, and asked Chris, now a qualified solicitor, and myself, now a qualified chartered accountant, to help her with the business and legal matters.”

Interestingly, another Old Boy, Simon Wood (5075), drafted the Trust Deed, and was an early trustee. Derek was appointed Secretary, holding the role for 47 years before retiring in 2018. Chris McVeigh was a trustee, and the pair served on the Court Company Management Committee in the early years.

“However, what was more remarkable was the number of Old Boys who joined the company as actors and went on to have illustrious stage careers, including David Telford (6825), Pete Rowling (8013), David Copeland (8342), Mark Hadlow (8490), Glenn Drake (10560) and Nick Kyle (12658).”

Derek says that two Old Boys, Matt Chamberlain (9427) and Cameron Douglas (11873), have appeared in one of this year’s biggest productions, Once.

Having retired from his accounting practice in 2010, Derek decided to focus on writing the history of The Court Theatre, officially getting under way in 2017.

“I had all the material saved from our office after the earthquakes, including files and letters left with me for safe keeping by retiring trustees,” he says.

Derek called in Felicity Price in 2020, having reached more than 200 pages and with 10 years of the history to complete – including the earthquake years. Meanwhile, Annie Bonifant found photos, many from former artistic director Elric Hooper’s records and Caxton Press.

Having been appointed a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit (MNZM) in 2003 for Services to the Arts, Derek remains committed to The Court Theatre, relishing any opportunity to share his extensive knowledge of the stage and the history of an integral – and much-loved – element of the arts in New Zealand.