Restoration of the Isaac Theatre Royal


From the Resene Total Colour Awards gallery of entries

Resene Total Colour Awards 2016
Restoration of the Isaac Theatre Royal - Christchurch

The 2010–2011 earthquakes in Christchurch caused severe damage to The Isaac Theatre Royal. This heritage building was first opened in February 1908. The interior colour palette just prior to the earthquakes did not match the finely executed colour scheme of the painted dome ceiling made by G. C. Post of the Carrara Ceiling Company from Wellington in 1906-8. The interior of the theatre had been painted over at least four times making it difficult to establish the original colour scheme.

The Italianate theatre originally presented the style and colours of the European Theatres of the XIX century where green/blue colours were very much in use for the auditorium interiors.

Studio Carolina Izzo completed the restoration and conservation work on the dome and central plaster ceiling rosette along with the restoration of the finishing colours of the auditorium. During the treatment of the rosette it was decided to restore most of the theatre’s original colour scheme over the other plaster decorations of the theatre that were being replaced.

During the first assessment of the plastered rosette it became very obvious that the plaster colour that was visible was a later addition and not the original colour. The surface presented a discoloured dull beige, enamel paint. During the research, a stratification project was undertaken to uncover the various paint layers, which had been applied over time. Close inspection revealed the original paint work and the history of paint layers at The Isaac Theatre Royal.

The original 1908 colour scheme was finally recorded along with the original gold leaf application. The research of the original colours and their location took quite some time to perform as the more recent colours were quite similar to each other and because there were also many decorative elements present in the auditorium. Samples of the original colours were analysed under microscope, and from that, reconstruction of the original green and blue colours was possible.

Isaac Theatre Royal Seating, ceiling painting, closeup Details

The first traces of a green colour were found on the dome rosette under at least four layers of paint. The original layer was dated at 1908 when the Theatre was completed by the Carrara company in Wellington. Microscopic investigation was performed to discover the composition of the colour pigments. The original traces were contaminated by plaster, other paint layers, soot, and general dirt (patina). At first the recreation of the green colour with the patina was considered however, it was decided to paint the rosette and other parts of the auditorium in the original colour, a direct replica of the areas where no patina was present. This colour was created by Resene to match the original and renamed Isaac Theatre Royal Green.

The first traces of a blue colour, were found on one of the auditorium’s patrons’ boxes. The blue pigment was found under the three layers of paint and appears to have been applied during the renovation of the interior dated to 1928. This colour was created by Resene to match the original and renamed Isaac Theatre Royal Blue.

Restoration work
Restoration of the Isaac Theatre Royal - Christchurch

For the rest of the auditorium’s decorative elements Resene Villa White and Resene Eighth Putty beige were used which were the closest colours found in the 1908 and 1928 colour scheme of the theatre. The painting was completed using Resene Ceiling Velvet and Resene SpaceCote Flat.

The colours were replicated and approved by the Client, the Heritage Architect and the Architect involved in the reconstruction of the theatre.

The dilemma faced was that the painted scene on the dome was of a much higher quality than the rest of the painted elements in the auditorium, including the rosette. It was clear that the original painting of the auditorium had once been the same level of quality. The other dilemma was that because of the age of the building the community could not have known the original intention of the designer, so – would they accept the new colour scheme?

Ultimately this was a hugely successful decision. The community applauded. This final work on the interior was also awarded Best Craftmanship accolade at the Awards 2015.

Architectural specifier: Warren and Mahoney
Building contractor: Naylor Love
Client: Isaac Theatre Royal Charitable Trust
Other key contributor - conservator foreman: Stefano Pessina
Other key contributor – conservator technician: Elisa Manca
Other key contributor - Isaac Theatre Royal CEO: Neil Cox
Photographer: Building Image; Carolina Izzo

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