News | 8 July 2024
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Fun facts about the St James Theatre

There's a lot to learn about the iconic St James theatre. Here's a few things you may not know about the venue.

The ornate boxes and curtains at St James Theatre.

The theatre is over 100-years-old  

St James Theatre opened on Boxing Day in 1912, and the process from design to debut took architect Henry Eli White less than a year! Early performances  as slapstick comedians, balladeers, jugglers, acrobats, tumblers, and dancers, which were all extremely popular through to the 1930s. Explore the theatre’s 110-year history

St James wasn’t the theatre’s original name 

The St James was originally called ‘His Majesty’s Theatre’, though it was also known as ‘Fullers’ – as it was built for the theatre company Messrs John Fuller and Sons. It was not renamed St James until the 1930s, and was briefly known as the Westpac St. James Theatre, when naming rights were owned by the bank from 1997 to 2007. 

Archived sketch of the St James.
Design plans for ‘His Majesty’s Theatre Wellington’, later renamed the St James. Wellington City Archives, 00053:9229.

The St James has a history of haunts 

The theatre is rumoured to be haunted by a number of ghosts, with the most well-known being Yuri, a Russian performer who fell to his death from theatre’s flies. Read more about the St James spirits, if you dare! 

The St James is the official home of the Royal New Zealand Ballet 

In 1998, the Council gifted the St James as the home space for the Royal New Zealand Ballet (RNZB). Since then, the RNZB has premiered many spectacular performances at the St James. The theatre, which can seat up to 1550 people, also hosts a variety of comedy acts, musical theatre, and live music. Check out what's on here. 

The ground level seats and ornate boxes at St James Theatre.
St James Theatre in 2022 just before the reopening.

Wellington City Council purchased St James in 1993 

Wellington City Council has been the proud owner of the St James since 1993, after a passionate public campaign called for the theatre to be saved from demolition. Since then, the Council has committed to keeping the theatre great, investing $18.5 million to restore the building in the 90s, and embarking on a mission to refurbish and restrengthen the theatre in 2019. The $42 million earthquake strengthening work and refurbishment involved preservation and protection of significant heritage elements like the historic decorative interior of the theatre. Wellington City Council worked closely with Heritage New Zealand and conservation architects to ensure the heritage values were upheld and adhered to, so that when the theatre reopened in June 2022, it was just as iconic as the day it was opened.