This is the second in a series of vignettes by local historian Michael Fowler, detailing events and characters that have shaped the Hawke’s Bay Opera House story.

Publicity photo from the Hastings Amateur Operatic Society’s production of San Toy, 1915.

The first production for the opening of the Hastings Municipal Theatre on 12 October 1915 was San Toy, a musical comedy performed by the Hastings Amateur Operatic Society.

Originating in London, the first show was in 1899 at Daly’s Theatre, followed by a run of 768 performances.

San Toy had been staged earlier, at the Princess Theatre in Heretaunga Street West in 1913.

This comedic farce featured stereotypes of Chinese people, and was peppered with subtle suggestions of Western superiority. This was a reflection of the significant prejudice of the time, and it would now not be acceptable entertainment.

San Toy ran for four nights and was the first of thousands of amateur and professional productions that would be staged in the first hundred years of what is now the Hawke’s Bay Opera House.