For quarter of a century, the Mercury Theatre was the leading theatrical company in Auckland and one of the largest, most professionally run and most important performing arts organisations in the country. A dozen or more shows were presented every year, ranging from children's pantomimes to cutting-edge drama. The company presented classics by Shakespeare, Shaw, Sheridan and Chekhov, as well as new works from Edward Bond, Caryl Churchill, Athol Fugard, Pam Gems, Christopher Hampton, David Hare and Tom Stoppard. There were productions not only of popular musicals, like Chicago, The fiddler on the roof, Porgy and Bess, The sound of music, South Pacific and West side story, but of full-scale operas, like The barber of Seville, Don Giovanni, Gounod's Faust, Madame Butterfly and Turandot. The Mercury also featured the work of Roger Hall, Bruce Mason, Greg McGee, Carolyn Burns, Renee Taylor, Anthony McCarten, Stephen Sinclair, Vincent O'Sullivan, Maurice Shadbolt and other New Zealand playwrights.
The Auckland Theatre Trust was formed in 1966 to raise funds for the establishment of a professional theatre company in Auckland. An old playhouse in France Street (off Karangahape Road), built in 1910 and later used as a cinema, was extensively refitted to serve as the company's headquarters and principal venue. The Mercury Theatre opened in 1968 with a production of J. M. Barrie's comedy, The admirable Crichton. During the next decades the company attracted some of New Zealand's top acting talents (such as Roy Billing, Pam Ferris, Lee Grant, George Henare, Michael Hurst, Ian Mune and Jennifer Ward-Lealand) and some of the country's finest directors (such as Raymond Hawthorne, Jonathan Hardy, Paul Minifie and Mervyn Thompson).
Although the Mercury drew large audiences, the costs of maintaining a full-sized company and mounting lavish productions were high. In 1992, to the disappointment of Auckland's theatre-going public, the company closed. The final production was an adaptation of The wind in the willows, written by Alan Bennett with music and songs by Jeremy Sams.
Some archival material was deposited with the Library in 1988 and the collection was greatly expanded after the company's closure. By necessity the rescue operation was swift. Liquidators allowed the small team, led by librarian Theresa Graham, less than twenty-four hours to retrieve the Mercury's voluminous records from the France Street premises.
Filling about 500 boxes, the Mercury Theatre archive includes administration files, invoices, production accounts, front-of-house reports and statistics, costume hire agreements, press clippings, photographs, audio recordings, films and videos, scripts, musical scores, production plans, programmes and posters. It is an invaluable resource for anyone interested in theatrical organisation or in the history of the performing arts in New Zealand.