St James – the show goes on

Last Updated : 03 Oct 2016
Curtain goes up on St James Theatre

Heritage theatres seem to capture people’s imagination and none more so than Auckland’s St James Theatre. Forlorn and dilapidated, the theatre remained shut for seven years despite strenuous efforts to save it by Auckland Council and theatre supporters.

Around Australasia similar theatres designed by architect Henry White had been lovingly restored to become thriving performance hubs. But in Auckland it seemed the St James could be lost to demolition by neglect.

Yet inside its grim outer walls all the main original features of the theatre are intact, from the marble staircase to the ornate plasterwork and tiered seating. Its auditorium manages to be both majestic and intimate. It’s a rare treat to find such an old building that hasn’t been tampered with.

For its architectural significance alone, the St James needs to be saved. But just as important is its social importance. Old theatres are loved and valued firstly because of the memories they hold for people.

In its 87 years, the St James stage and screen has displayed a dazzling range of entertainment for Aucklanders. Hundreds of thousands of people have laughed, shed tears and danced within its walls.
But the St James is immensely relevant for the future too.

In an age when people can entertain themselves at their home computers and TV screens, many still want, and need, to gather together and be delighted and entertained alongside others. Glorious heritage theatres like the St James can fulfill that fundamental need like nothing else.

It’s the last theatre of its kind in New Zealand and holds pride of place in the centre of Auckland. Now the story of bringing the St James Theatre up to scratch will be told to hundreds of people.

Auckland Council has funded a 26-minute documentary showing the past year in the life of the iconic theatre, including the story of how the foyer has been fully restored and running as a cafe since May.

It’s hoped the short film, The Show Goes On, will be the first in a series showing the renovation of the theatre which originally opened in 1928. Check out a preview of the film below.

Margot McRae, a local historian and filmmaker, has been working on the documentary for a year. She says tickets are selling well, with people keen to get inside the old auditorium and watch the story come to life on the original old screen.

The Spanish mission-style building has long captured the imagination of Aucklanders with its high ceilings, ornate decorations and grand marble staircases. It has played host to the Queen at the Royal Variety Performance, and the likes of Sir Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh have graced the stage.

Work will soon begin on demolition around the theatre to build apartments and will include a full restoration of the theatre tower. Noel Reardon from Auckland Council’s Heritage department says it’s vital to record the start of the renovation at the theatre.

Auckland Council is working closely with the owner of the theatre over its full restoration.

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