By Allan Webb, 1999.
Theatres are planned to take into consideration the size and shape of the land they are to occupy. The architect had to work out how to get the most out of the section that was available and for the theatres of yesteryear, the prime aim was to get the greatest number of seats possible in the auditorium. Everything else was secondary to that. Theatre entrances were situated as best to suit the allocated space and in some cases little thought was given to the ease in which to seat the patrons.
The Central Theatre in Papatoetoe had the ideal entrances, having one midway on each side of the auditorium. This was very rare, in fact the design of that Theatre would have been unique in those days as the whole auditorium had stadium seating, which is only just becoming in vogue now (1999). A lot of theatres had two floors with an entrance at the side for each, or an entrance at the side for the circle and two at the rear of the stalls. Others had two entries for the circle, one on each side, plus two entrances at the rear of the stalls. This was also another ideal situation for seating patrons.
When Kerridge Odeon built some new style theatres in the fifties and sixties, they had a specific design which had the entry to the entire auditorium in the very centre with a double set of stairs coming up from the foyer. These theatres had stadium seating in the circle and the stalls were raked. This was not a very suitable arrangement as the stairway took up the prime seating. As well as this, patrons who arrived late would come up from the foyer and block the viewing of those already seated and watching the programme. Of course this method was good for the ease in which to seat people. When extra screens were incorporated into existing theatres, they sometimes had to be front loaders. This was not very desirable in most cases as it was a distraction for those already watching the film because each time a late comer walked in and the door was opened, light would shine in.
As I have mentioned already the theatres that were loaded from the side were difficult for seating people. In most instances this would have been for half the auditorium. Usually these entrances came off long lobbies attached to the side of the main structure. There could have been only one thing worse than having to seat patrons from two side doors and that would have been a unique situation where all patrons had to enter one side door. I cannot understand why an experienced exhibitor or a safety conscious owner could have conceived such an idea.
The Regent Theatre had one side entrance only which went up to the centre of the circle area. There was no entrance to the stalls and the patrons who came in after the film had started had to walk in front of those already seated and watching the film. All seats on the far side plus all seats in the stalls could only be accessed from that one entry. As the theatre seated 800 people the ease in which to load a full house would have been most disconcerting and there must have been considerable delays at peak times. This theatre had no suitable facilities; the foyer area was far too small and the conveniences were insufficient. The Ladies had two water closets whereas as far as I can determine, the Gents had a urinal and no water closet. The entrance up the stairs that came from the landing to the auditorium, provided the only access into the theatre proper. There were no doors so any noises or drafts could not be stopped and light would come in if the curtains were open
Obviously these conditions (along with no ventilation) were not acceptable and as a consequence about a year after opening several alterations were made to make conditions more favourable. The toilets were altered so that both original facilities were incorporated and made into one Ladies Powder room with three water closets. A long lobby was attached to the side of the building from the original entrance landing, to past the end of the building and at the end of this a new Gents toilet was erected.