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New St James Theatre rises from ashes of Westminster

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The 312-seat St James Theatre will open in Victoria this September, built on the site of the demolished Westminster Theatre at 12 Palace Street in SW1.

The venue, which will also contain a 100-seat studio, is billed by its operators as the "first newly built theatre complex in central London in over 30 years."

The St James’ first season will be announced in April by artistic director David Gilmore and assistant artistic director James Albrecht. The programme is expected to include musicals, comedies and classic revivals in addition to playing host to touring and regional productions.

The studio space, which can also be configured as a 150 standing venue, will stage one-night and short-run comedy and live music including jazz and cabaret.

Additionally, the theatre will been fitted with broadcast facilities which will be used to feed performances to the venue's own Sky television channel.

Another artist's impression of the finished St James Theatre

Speaking about the theatre Mhora Samuel, director of The Theatres Trust, said in a press statement: "I’m delighted to see the new St James Theatre opening this year. As the first purpose built theatre in London for some time it is very much welcomed, adding a high quality small scale theatre to Westminster’s rich theatre scene and specifically supporting investment and regeneration in Victoria."

The St James Theatre has been entirely funded by private investment and has design by Foster Wilson Architects and public space and interior design by Lambart & Browne. Artist and designer Mark Humphrey has also been commissioned create a central staircase installation.

The venue's management team includes Robert Mackintosh as joint CEO and creative director with Guy Kitchenn as executive theatre director and Lady Lucy French as director of development.

There have been a number of plans to resurrect a theatre on the site of the Palace Street site. Talawa’s £9.3 million Westminster Theatre Project to establish the first major black-led arts institution in central London, failed in 2005 after the Arts Council withdrew £4 million capital funding.

Following planning permission for the new theatre being granted in 2009, the London Aloft company were attached to run the site as "The Kean" with a team including chief executive Stephen Mitchelson and patron Steven Berkoff. Gregory Thompson was reportedly signed up as the building's artistic director, which had intended to operate in a style similar to Southwark's Menier Chocolate Factory.

Originally the St James' Picture House, the original Westminster Theatre building was opened in 1923 on the site of the Charlotte Chapel, which was erected in 1766.

In 1931, the venue was transformed into a theatre, with a capacity for more than 1,500. Despite the efforts of Save London Theatres Campaign, Westminster City Council granted permission for developers to demolish it in 2001 and the theatre closed in 2002, after which a fire razed most of the structure.


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