On a gorgeous, cloudless spring day, which also so happened to be three days before its 98th birthday, The Vic re-opened for the first time in eight years, and was swamped by enthusiastic visitors and local residents.
Around 400 people turned up to see the old girl again, most of whom seemed agog at the stunningly refurbished state of both her interior and exterior.
Led by two bagpipe players, the crowd marched down from the corner of Victoria and Calliope roads to gather outside. Unfortunately the Trust had not been able to secure Victoria Rd to be fully closed, so traffic management became key as the large crowd spilled out of the footpaths on both sides of the road.
A wild-haired creature appeared on the verendah, and for a moment I thought the Victoria Theatre Trust had decided to follow perhaps a little too closely one of original owner John Benwell’s more eccentric predilections; that of keeping caged monkeys, which were in the habit of escaping.
Fortunately, the splendidly hirsute figure transmogrified into none other than David Slack, armed with a megaphone and looking like he meant to use it. Resurrecting the revolution-fomenting activist of his long-forgotten youth, Slack mounted the roof and with megaphone in hand, spurred the crowd on to rise up and throw off their chains of servitude.
Well, not quite; in fact he welcomed the crowd to the opening and encouraged them to participate in the crowd photo, taken from an upper floor apartment across the road.
After a blessing by a kaumatua and some short speeches, the doors were opened and the crowd surged forward. The T shirt stall and cafe did a brisk trade (despite Murphy’s Law making a cameo appearance and sabotaging the coffee machine), and the three beautiful theatres filled with those wanting to enjoy the selection of entertainment provided. Films and live performances were the order of the day.
The most striking moment was the rediscovery of the upper Albert theatre; it is significantly larger than I remembered, seating 120 people. While 60 short of the capacity of the downstairs Victoria Theatre, it is nevertheless a beautiful space, and together with the Benwell room, which seats 44, these spaces should provide ample resource for the combination of film and performing arts that are planned.
Contributing to the atmosphere of the original opening in 1912 were four vintage cars parked outside. One, a 1924 Sunbeam, came replete with its owner, Jacqui Goldingham, in full 1920s driving garb (see photo gallery). An ersatz Charlie Chaplin also made an appearance.
Linda McKay, organiser of the day, was pleased with how the day unfolded, and must be given credit for pulling the whole thing together successfully.
Having been presented with this wonderful resource, it is now up to the Devonport community to ensure its continued longevity. The Vic’s survival is no longer dependent upon the hard-working volunteers, cornerstone funders and Trust members.
It is now up to us – the everyday local residents – to step up and ensure the Vic survives. See you there.