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Changing of the Guard: David Gilmore at the new St James Theatre

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Rising from the ashes of the former Westminster Theatre in London’s Palace Street, next to Buckingham Palace, the newly built, £7 million St James Theatre complex – comprising a 312-seat main house, flexible 100-150 seat studio, bar, café, restaurant and broadcast studio – launches its inaugural season this week, under the helm of its founding artistic director, David Gilmore.

Earlier in his 50-year career, Gilmore ran two leading regional playhouses, the Nuffield Theatre in Southampton and the Watermill Theatre in Newbury. His many West End credits include the original award-winning productions of Daisy Pulls It Off, Ken Ludwig comedy Lend Me a Tenor, Defending the Caveman and the premiere of Melvyn Bragg and Howard Goodall’s musical The Hired Man. Most notably in the West End, Gilmore’s production of Grease ran for seven years at the Dominion and Cambridge Theatres before returning to the Victoria Palace, and touring internationally.

Gilmore’s many other productions, at home and abroad, include plays As You Like It, The Tempest, The Merchant of Venice, Hedda Gabler, David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross and Ben Elton’s Gasping; and musicals Footloose and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Song and Dance.

As part of our occasional “Changing of the Guard” series with new artistic directors, Whatsonstage.com spoke to Gilmore about this brand-new venture, what it means to London and the risks and rewards of a theatrical business model without public subsidy.

Why did you want to become artistic director of this brand-new theatre?

Many years ago I was an artistic director at the Nuffield Theatre in Southampton and at the Watermill in Newbury. Ever since, I’ve been freelancing. After years of being a freelancer, I thought it would be nice to get involved in running a building again. Plus, this is a new and interesting building - the whole model which it’s been projected to run on is very stimulating and exhilarating. That’s why I got involved.

What is the business model?

St James Theatre in Victoria/[email protected]_IMGIn terms of finances, there is no subsidy at all, and the main house only has 312 seats. There&
First, if you have any interest in theatre, there’s something for you here in our programme. "You will laugh, you will cry and you will be held." Second, your entire evening will be top notch. Your seat will be comfortable and you’ll have an uninterrupted view of the stage. You will hear every word as acoustics here are phenomenal: you can hear a pin drop. You’ll be able to eat a fantastic meal before or after the show. And you will be well looked after by our staff, who are the most cheerful, smiling, helpful people. So what’s not to like?

The immediate challenges for a new theatre are myriad. What are the immediate rewards for you?

The best reward for anybody involved in the theatre is to stand at the back of a full auditorium with people cheering at the curtain call or laughing at the comedy or sniffling away a tear.

- David Gilmore was speaking to Terri Paddock

After a series of gala events last week, the St James Theatre’s inaugural season gets officially underway this week with Bully Boy, which opened last night (19 September 2012, preview 18 September) and continues until 27 October.


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