- Publish Date
- Monday, 13 August 2018, 2:25PM
We knew someone who was lucky enough to attend the recent bi-annual concert at Gloriavale Christian Community. We asked them to give an anonymous review:
We left Christchurch around 2pm and for the entire car ride, we were wondering what we were in for. Would we be brainwashed? Would we see a whole bunch of people eager to leave their 'community'? Would we be seeing people doing things against their will?
We were about to find out.
The drive to Lake Haupiri is a pleasant one but the closer we got to the community, the more isolated we felt. It started with a windy road, then we lost phone reception and then, the asphalt just sort of ran out ...
After a 10 kilometre long gravel road and stunning views of the lake and countryside, a lone, hand-painted sign saying 'concert' directed us towards the community. Another few kilometres passed and then we saw it - what we'd all seen on the popular TVNZ documentaries - the multitude of identical white buildings where the members of the community lived.
It was like driving onto the set of your favourite movie - seeing it in real life was incredible.
Arriving at around 5:15pm, we were one of the first groups to arrive for the 6pm concert. One of the leaders greeted us and invited us to take a wander around the grounds of Gloriavale as we waited. We took him up on that offer, roving around the grounds and taking all the sights in. Outside each hostel were prams - lots of them - which makes sense when you see the families of up to 13, all dressed head to toe in blue.
After heading to the bathrooms hoping to see something exciting or weird (we didn't - just the lack of locks on any of the doors..!), we entered what is usually the main dining hall that you see on the documentaries in preparation for the concert. This time, however, it didn't resemble a dining hall in the slightest.
We were welcomed into a fully kitted out auditorium via a hand-built castle, complete with a proper moat.
Having no preconceived idea of what to expect, we were blown away as we were led to our tables which had personalised place cards, a mini truck filled with Cheezels and a programme of the night ahead.
What we saw over the next four hours was amazing.
Not just a great concert for an isolated group of radical Christians, but a great concert full stop.
The night began with a full orchestra and their repertoire of popular pieces while the 600 or so members of the audience were delivered hot tomato soup with fresh, home-made buns. The way the food came from the kitchen and delivered to the tables was seriously impressive - like absolute clockwork. Each row of seats was allocated one member of the community for the evening, ours was a lovely guy by the name of Faithful.
We sat back and basked in the talent of the community - the concert was split into six separate performances and each one was created from scratch. The set was unlike anything we'd ever seen before (they had a motorised dinosaur coming out of the wall!!) and each of the Weta-Workshop-standard costumes was handmade by members of the community.
The overarching story was a night at a musical museum and each exhibit was a separate performance. Each performance was a spectacle in its own right - from the talents showcased in 'The Street Show' (unicyclists, juggling acts, magic tricks) through to the amazing props in 'A War Story'. Seriously - they had designed and built 3/4 sized Army Land Rovers with electric motors so the kids could drive them across the stage! In between each segment, we saw a performance from a Magician stroke Master of Ceremonies with hilarious attempts at magic tricks, classic Dad jokes and genuinely funny banter.
While we were immersed in the show, Faithful delivered our main meal. Roast chicken with rice, peas and crispy potato chip things accompanied with gravy and a strange (albeit delicious) white sauce.
The show continued - we saw a steam train (complete with steam!!) move across the stage, a crazy L.E.D light show, and a delicious home-made ice cream sundae (presumably from their huge onsite dairy farm). There was, however, a noticeable absence of any mention of the 1995 jailing of their founder and ex-leader, the late Neville Cooper...
It was while we were watching the depiction of the War that we remembered where we were. Gloriavale! But surely, it should be more strange than this?
We hadn't been brainwashed.
We hadn't been preached to.
We had just been in the audience of an amazing show.
The entire Gloriavale community was nothing but polite and hospitable to outsiders - those who had travelled were offered beds and meals and upon leaving, we were all gifted a home-made loaf of bread and butter. We were able to ask questions and everybody seemed to enjoy themselves while performing to us 'outsiders'.
Everything was wrapped up about 10:30pm. We drove back into the darkness and nothingness surrounding the community, heads swirling with questions.. Why do they put this show on for the public? Are they trying to create a positive name for themselves amongst the NZ public?
But most importantly...
How did they make that sundae so damned good?!