The Lyttelton Arts Factory

The Lyttelton Arts Factory Trust is
 a not-for-profit arts organisation specialising in theatrical performance and education.

LAF Dance 5

Lyttelton Arts Factory (LAF) is a fully-equipped black box theatre in Lyttelton, Christchurch. It provides a blank canvas for creating theatre and for teaching the performing arts.

LAF’s vision is to be a dedicated space where practitioners of the performing arts can devise, rehearse, and present original works in one place.

LAF is the direct successor of the iconic Lyttelton venue The Loons. Under artistic director Mike Friend, the Loons venue and the Loons Circus Theatre Company had become major players in the local and national theatre scene. Then the venue was lost to the earthquakes of 2011.

On the back of the Loons’ popularity a major fund-raising initiative brought in about $500,000 to establish the Lyttelton Arts Factory. Since opening in June 2016 LAF has resumed our commitment to Christchurch theatre.  We have presented theatre seasons to over 30,000 people and taught over 130 students each year, ranging from year 1 – adults.

In addition to creating and staging new New Zealand theatre, LAF’s signature Cabarets and Quiz nights, born out of the heady days of The Loons, and the reestablishment of the Circus Theatre Company (now the Lyttelton Circus Theatre Co. - LCTC) this group continue to delight Christchurch audiences who love spectacle and comic entertainment.

Lyttelton Arts Factory is a not for profit organisation, overseen by a  registered charitable trust The Lyttelton Arts Factory Trust.


LAF began its life as ‘The Loons’ in 2006 when Mike Friend and Darryl Cribb took on the lease of 16 Canterbury Street, a working men’s club threatened with closure. Mike and Darryl turned the building into a theatre, adopting the local name for the building dating from the 1920’s when it was The Loons Garage. The Loons grand opening cabaret took place in March 2007 and sold out.

Mike invited eight performers to create the Loons Circus Theatre Company (LCTC) (but known to everyone as 'The Loons') and over the course of the following five years the LCTC became nationally and internationally renowned for creating startlingly original shows fusing circus with theatre. The Company performed from Whangarei to Invercargill. It was invited to a dozen arts festivals. And it took its signature show The Butler to London for a three week run at the Pleasance Theatre, Islington.

At the same time 16 Canterbury Street became a cultural and social hub of Lyttelton and drew thousands through the tunnel from Christchurch for a night out. In five years the venue staged over 400 events ranging from the full-blown professional theatre of The Butler to children’s shows, charity fund-raisers and community quiz nights.

The building was also used to teach classes in the performing arts to both children and adults. Out of these developed the educational arm of the LCTC, known as 'Loons in Schools'.

In 2010 the Loons Theatre Trust was formed to embrace all the activities the Loons had built up: the professional theatre, the community events, and education in the performing arts.

The LCTC had developed a reputation for cutting edge self-sustaining theatre, the likes of which NZ had never seen. The only way was up, or so it seemed.

The Butler
Berlin Burlesque at the Loons
Skye out front of the quake ravaged 'The Loons'

In 2010 - 2011 there were a series of earthquakes that rocked the Christchurch region with Lyttelton being hit particularly hard. In this 2011 earthquake a number of heritage buildings including the Loons were severely damaged forcing closure for the Loons, and demolition for many more.

Despite the loss of their venue the Loons venue in 2011, commissioned by the Christchurch Arts Festival the LCTC produced a season of Macbeth. Previously planned to be shown at The Loons, the work now ran as an outdoor post-apocalyptic adaptation. The rubble left from demolished buildings on the corner of London and Canterbury Streets, Lyttelton, was their stage. With lighting and direction by Mike Friend the show sold out to an extended season.

In the aftermath there were many show and cabaret fundraisers performed to assist with the rebuilds. Highly successful fundraisers, and thanks to a successful Mayoral Grant for the Arts, monies were secured for the commencement of the rebuild and fit-out of the Loons. Sadly 'the Loons venue trustees' reneged on their original agreement with the LCTC using the funds for the rebuild, but excluding the tenants that raised them. The Loons and their many supporters who had contributed were devastated and in the fallout and without a home the company had no choice but to take a break. The LCTC dispersed due to general lack of venues to rehearse or perform in, and Mike and Darryl were forced to look for other options to keep their dream of Lyttelton theatre alive.

An opportunity arose and new alliances were formed. Upon discussion with the Ministry of Eduction, plans were made for the construction of a new black box theatre, sharing use with the Lyttelton Primary School who would own the venue. Thanks to Mike Friend and Darryl Cribb a venue came into being in 2016 called The LAF Theatre. The Lyttelton Arts Factory was born, and the trust became The Lyttelton Arts Factory Trust.

The LAF theatre's first full production was 'Road' using a exclusively local cast, including some of the original members of the company and was a sensation. Since then, the education program recommenced and shows became a regular feature at the new venue.

In 2022 the Lyttelton Arts Festival was born, co-directed by Skye Broberg and Bonnie Judkins, it started its life as a three day arts festival and included workshops, busking, theatre and music. In 2023 Skye continued as Festival Director and the event blossomed into a ten day festival with 47 events, over thirteen venues, and boasted a starting parade, art trail and the involvement of over 100 artists.

In 2023 the former LCTC or 'Loons company' members were asked to reunite to perform a much loved developing show 'Berlin Burlesque' last performed in 2012. To Mike Friends delight, the company unanimously said yes and plans were put into action to gather the cast in Lyttelton for the start of January 2024. The show is set to run from mid Jan - mid Feb 2024 with the company being renamed the Lyttelton Circus Theatre Company (LCTC).

With 2024 starting with the relaunch of Berlin Burlesque, the ever developing education program will start with the school year, and mid-year will provide a bigger and bolder Lyttelton Arts Festival. It's going to be a good year for LAF.

Berlin Burlesque

Photos from top down: Still from 'The Butler', David ladderman in 'Berlin Burlesque', Skye Broberg outside quake ravaged Loons building, Cast photo from 'Hanussen'.

LAF's Mission and Kaupapa

The Butler Dresses Again 296x400

LAF aims to:

  • Create and present new New Zealand works.
  • Contribute to development pathways in Christchurch.
  • Provide performers, directors and writers with devising and rehearsal space and performance opportunities.
  • Teach diverse theatre and performing arts disciplines.
  • Provide a high quality theatre environment for touring shows to present their work.
  • Provide Christchurch audiences with a diverse range of opportunities to see high quality local and touring shows.
  • Support the Circus and physical theatre community. Christchurch and LAF have a rich circo arts legacy.
  • Provide the community, organisations and businesses a venue for events, exhibitions, presentations and workshops.

LAF Theatre Venue

LAF Theatre
LAF Venue

Lyttelton Arts Factory is a fully equipped Black Box Theatre based in Christchurch's Lyttelton.

LAF hosts a wide variety of events including theatre, dance, comedy, music and multi-media. Flexibility is integral to LAF's design which boasts fully retractable tiered seating enabling directors, set designers and lighting designers to adjust the space to suit their show.

The space can be optimized for End Stage, Short Traverse, Long Traverse, Thrust, In the Round and Promenade.

  • Theatre up to 140
  • Cocktail up to 200
  • Cabaret Tables up to 150
  • Cabaret/Theatre combo up to 170
  • Banquet up to 80

Contact us to discuss your event, fundraiser or show!

Lyttelton Arts Factory
Lyttelton Arts Factory

LAF Creative Staff

Mike Friend
Creative Director

Mike Friend

Creative director for LAF and lighting aficionado Mike has been the driving force behind LAF. Determined to make sustainable, affordable, quality theatre, his passion is infectious.

Carmel Courtney
Musical Director

Carmel Courtney

Carmel is a creative, passionate and innate musician, and multi-instrumentalist. She is a professional musician and teacher who you'll adore on-stage as much as off.

Darryl Cribb
Venue Manager

Darryl Cribb

So much more than the manager Darryl is a one-man multi-skilled powerhouse. You'll see him behind the bar, operating sound and liaising with anyone who interacts with LAF. If Mike is the heart of LAF, Darryl is the life-blood.

Skye Broberg
Festival Director

Skye Broberg

Acrobat, graphic-designer and co-ordinator. Skye started as part of the circus theatre company and has expanded into administration and co-ordination, now directing the Lyttelton Arts Festival.

East Riding Theatre Artist Exchange Program

LAF_The Die_Digital Suite_r1_Website - Shows Pic

In 2018-2020 this exchange was born out of Mike Friend's professional relationship with Adrian Rawlins, E.R.T's Artistic Director but derailed due to the global pandemic like so many other things.

From the first show"Oliver Twist" our artist exchange programme with E.R.T has produced great outcomes for performers and audiences. It saw Hester Uyllart and Annie Kirkman raise the stakes in "The Butler Dresses Again" and then brought two outstanding solo shows to LAF audiences; Evie Guttridge (SPOONFACE Steinberg) and Hester Ullyart's (Paragon Station) in 2018.

LAF's biggest community theatre event yet "Our Town" in January 2019 was also made possible by this artist exchange when Hester Ullyart returned to be mentored to direct the show under Mike Friend at LAF.

Our latest collaboration with E.R.T is a new work "Chippie" by Joe Bennett which will be directed by Adrian Rawlins in the UK starring Tom Trevella and Hester Ullyart. This provided a massive opportunity for Tom to work under a world class UK director, and brought a fantastic new show to LAF in 2020. Tom has continued to work in theatre at LAF, The Court, and within independent productions.

We are also lucky to have had UK import Hester Uyllart continue to spend a good part of her year in Lyttelton producing and presenting works, adding another fine artist to our midst.

Past Productions

The list of shows is growing. The Butler, Berlin Burlesque, Happy Home Road, Oak are some of the Lyttelton Circus Theatre Company's history, but did you know LAF also supports, and produces shows with budding thespians and aspiring artists to aid them in bringing their artistic visions to life. Many fundraisers, cabarets and educational shows of high quality also make up part of this extending list of titles.

Visit the colourful page of past productions by LAF, or supported by LAF. Or just enjoy the teaser images below.


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