History Of The Society
Canterbury Children’s Theatre was established in 1952 by Neta Neale MBE who believed that theatre for young people should be entertaining, educational and encourage audience participation. Also the performers were to be adult and the standard of costumes, props and sets at a professional standard. She developed this idea with a group of enthusiastic friends and their first show of “Tinder Box” played to excellent reviews and made a profit of £5.
When the Malthouse was purchased in 1965, Neta and fellow thespians spent many hours cleaning and renovating the building to create rehearsal and performance space and officially opened in 1969. Classes for drama and creative movement were introduced and Neta continued her private lessons, tutoring many television presenters, radio announcers and stage personalities.
Initially all shows produced by Canterbury Children’s Theatre were located off site, predominantly at the Repertory Theatre in Kilmore Street. This enabled the production of large shows with full orchestra and extensive cast and crew.
In 1976, Neta Neale was awarded a M.B.E in recognition of her work for children through Canterbury Children’s Theatre.
Through Neta’s tenacity, CCT secured the rights for “Mary Poppins” in 1978 becoming the first theatre group in the world to present the show. This was presented at the James Hay Theatre in Kilmore Street.
In 1989, the concept of Cushion Theatre was developed. This was the opportunity for CCT to produce a show on-site at the Malthouse with a smaller team of people and resources. This was the beginning of an important chapter in CCT’s history which has grown in strength ever since. With Cushion Theatre, the society is able to offer the younger generation an opportunity to experience live theatre in a more inclusive environment.
It also encourages new talent in the community with the opportunity to write, direct or act in a supportive and creative space. All members are voluntary and the society is a registered non-profit charity.
Canterbury Children’s Theatre has been an integral part of Christchurch history for decades and both the society and the building hold a special significance in the heart of the city.
Since 1952, the Malthouse has been financially self-sufficient, with the costume hire business generating more than enough income to enable the Trust to not only maintain, but also preserve the Malthouse building. This included extensive earthquake strengthening during 2004-2008 which showed wonderful foresight by the then trustees of the Trust. Without that work, the Malthouse would have almost certainly been lost in the Canterbury earthquake sequence commencing 4 September 2010. As it was, the building suffered minimal damage, and was declared fit for use within two days, with business being able to continue uninterrupted.
Unfortunately, the earthquakes have had an unforeseen impact, particularly on the costume hire business. And so, we now find ourselves in a position that we could never have previously imagined. The Malthouse Trust is fast running out of money. Although the Malthouse is a glorious building, its overheads and maintenance requirements are significant. The costume hire business is no longer generating the income we have previously enjoyed.
The Malthouse has served Canterbury Children’s Theatre well for over 60 years – help us keep her here in the heart of the local community.