March 8, 2012
March 8, 2012
We at St. James Theatre HQ have been incredibly fortunate as the delightful and talented comedian, author and presenter, Sandi Toksvig has recently visited the building site of St. James Theatre and was inspired to write an exclusive piece on our theatre. We are so grateful for her beauitful words and hope you will share the same delight and excitement for the future of St. James Theatre.
St. James Theatre by Sandi Toksvig
“In these recessionary times there are many things you don’t expect – the tax man, for example, thanking you for your contribution and letting you know he can manage perfectly well without it or the government deciding actually they were wrong and the NHS is perfectly fine as it is or, even more pleasing, someone deciding to build a new theatre in London. Life, being ever full of surprise, the latter is about to come true.
For the last three years I have spent an absurd amount of time commissioning new plays for television (17 so far and counting). It has been an astonishing pleasure to bring together some of the great writing and acting talent in the country. I love producing work for television and will continue to do so but my heart will always lie in the theatre. I took my first job in the West End back in 1976 when, aged 18, I became a followspot operator at the Palace Theatre on Jesus Christ Superstar. From that first day passing through the stage door my devotion to live performance has never diminished. There is something so utterly life affirming about a large group sitting in the dark together being told a story.
There are some wonderful theatres in London which attract audiences from around the world. Some of them are glorious, vast barns where musicals find a natural home. What we lack, however, are sufficient state of the art small theatres where new work can be generated and encouraged. I know how many great writers we have at our disposal in this country; I have now worked with quite a few of them. How glorious to have a splendid new space where they can be allowed to shine. We need to ensure that London theatre is constantly revitalised and exciting. It’s good for everybody. I would guess that many more tourists are attracted to see shows than come here to stand in the City of London saying ‘Wow, what a place of financial transactions’.
The worst thing we could have in this complex times is a failure of the imagination. The word ‘theatre’ means ‘the seeing place’ and it is here that we can examine moral issues, laugh and cry about our lives. The St James’ stands on a site where people have gathered together since 1766 – that’s ten years before the United States declared its independence. It’s a wonderful legacy. When the old theatre on the site, the Westminster, burnt down in 2002 many people thought that was the end for entertainment in the area. Now, however, we can all begin to believe in the impossible. A phoenix has literally risen from the ashes. I have been visiting the St James’ from the beginning. I have seen it as a hollow concrete shell and most recently, stood where the stage will soon be located looking up as the audience seating area begins to take shape. It is hugely exciting.
I believe that we need theatre, that we need drama. It is, as Alfred Hitchcock once said, life with the dull bits cut out.”