Last Wednesday WAN’s News Editor and I attended an open house evening at the St James Theatre which I had discovered via Twitter. St. James Theatre is the first newly-built theatre complex in central London for 30 years and will open to the public in September 2012.
We were kindly shown around by project architect Edmund Wilson of Foster Wilson Architects. Edmund recalls: “We had a great working relationship with the team at St James’ who represent a strong artistic team. They wanted to create something different to the West End, something with a touch of glamour and their ambition for the theatre was evident all the way through the project”.
The ground floor lobby and bar and the mezzanine brasserie are visually dominated and physically connected by a beautiful sculptural marble staircase designed by international award-winning artist-designer, Mark Humphrey.
Crafted in Pietra Santa (where Michelangelo carved David) by Porcelli Marmi, the gleaming staircase celebrates the best of British design alongside Italian craftsmanship. The theatre hopes that the staircase alone will bring people inside as they catch glimpses of its beauty through the wide panes of glass that define the external façade at street level.
Daniel Hunt, Box Office & Ticketing Manager comments: “Whilst St. James Theatre has many aspects which make it a crowning glory in London’s Theatre Land, our 28 tonne Italian marble staircase is by far the best. As the Box Office & Ticketing Manager, I deal with the crowds of people who come in every day just to have their photo taken on this marble wonder.
“Whilst serving its purpose as a staircase, it is a wonderfully crafted and beautiful piece of art that creates an air of opulence when you enter our building which automatically sets a standard for St. James. Not only does it stand alone as an amazing piece of art, it also provides a perfect backdrop to the everyday hustle and bustle of a working theatre. To have a piece like this, which draws the crowd in from off the street, is truly wonderful; Mark Humphrey has created a masterpiece.”
The vibrant lobby leads directly into the top of the 312 (plush velvet) seat theatre. We were guided down onto the stage and so able to experience how it will feel for the performers. There is no fly tower but the stage has the flexibility to change to suit different performances. Despite its capacity it felt as though any seat was close to the stage and the back of house space is functional, neat and efficient.
A secondary staircase from the lobby took us down into the studio space. A 100-seat studio theatre, it is the perfect venue for more intimate performances such as jazz recitals and cabaret.
St. James Theatre sits on the site of the former Westminster Theatre. The site’s planning constraint meant that any redevelopment would have to include a replacement theatre and so, in May 2009, plans for a new 312-seat theatre and a smaller cabaret stage topped with flats (by Loates-Taylor Shannon Architects) and a restaurant - all situated on the site of the original building - were given approval by Westminster City Council.
The venue's management team includes; Robert Mackintosh (Cameron’s brother) as joint CEO and Creative Director, David Gilmore as Artistic Director, Assistant Artistic Director James Albrecht, Guy Kitchenn as Executive Theatre Director and Lady Lucy French as Director of Development.
During our visit we met Hadley Fraser, who is performing in the studio space in October. Hadley is perhaps best known as a staple of the West End stage (Phantom of the Opera 25th anniversary, Les Miserables), but is becoming increasingly more known as a talented singer-songwriter.
Entirely funded by private investment, and designed and built to the highest standards, the theatre will be one of the most luxurious venues in which to enjoy ambitious, quality theatre programming. Its passionate and dedicated team will also contribute to St. James Theatre success.
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