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Speech

St James Theatre

Issue date: 
Thursday, 5 February 1998
Speaker: 
The Rt Hon Sir Michael Hardie Boys, GNZM, GCMG, QSO

E nga mana, e nga reo, rau rangatira ma, tena koutou, tena koutou, tena koutou katoa.

Mr Garlick, Chairman of the St James Theatre Charitable Trust; Dame Kate Harcourt, its Patron; Your Worship, Mayor Blumsky; Your Excellency, the British High Commissioner; other invited guests; ladies and gentlemen.

In the last two years, it has been my privilege to open many buildings, new and restored, but this is the most exciting of them all. It calls for many superlatives.

If you look up, to this wonderfully exuberant ceiling dome, you will see William Leslie Morrison's cherubs, modelled on his little grandson. They are all joyful, celebrating. One of them is blowing a trumpet. And if you shut your eyes and listen carefully, if you let your minds ascend the brightest heaven of invention, perhaps you will hear the sound of that trumpet, a joyous call of triumph.

For this is a triumphant day. A dream has been realised. A crusade has been victorious. This magnificent theatre has been saved from the speculator's chequebook and the demolition man's hammer. It has escaped the fate of so many of our country's historic and heritage buildings. And the essential place of the arts in a civilised society has been emphatically affirmed.

I would like to think that in that brightest heaven, the trumpet's sound is being played by others too. I think particularly of Peter Harcourt, that man who lived and breathed the theatre, and whose vision and energy and enthusiasm galvanised public opinion to save the St James. Assuredly, he will be rejoicing with us tonight. How thrilled he would be at what has been achieved, how proud too that his Kate, our Kate, is Patron of the Trust, no nominal patron but as vigorous as he was in our cultural and civic life, and now, with daughter Miranda, a formidable theatrical double feature.

In paying tribute to Peter and to Kate, I pay tribute too to all who have worked so strenuously and given so generously, to bring to this city, indeed this nation, what is undoubtedly one of our finest cultural assets.

The concept is quite brilliant, yet eminently practical.

Getting into the place as it was, was always quite a pain, as you may very well remember, but now there is the magnificent foyer and hospitality area, which I am sure will become a favoured meeting place as well as a centre of imagination and creativity.

The stage house, equipped with state of the art technology, should now accommodate the largest and most elaborate of shows.

There will, I am confident, be no repeat of one of my favourite episodes. It happened during a performance of Faust, when a trapdoor was to be opened in the stage floor so that the unfortunate doctor could be cast into the eternal fire. But the door stuck. Tugging and pulling was to no avail. And then, above the sweaty consternation on-stage, came a voice from the gods: "Praise be! Hell's full!"

I'm sure the technology here is heat proof. And alongside the most modern of stage equipment, the gorgeously Edwardian rococo auditorium has been restored to its former splendour. And a permanent home, of really splendid proportions, has been provided for the Royal New Zealand Ballet.

All this has involved the purchase of adjoining land, the gutting and strengthening of the old theatre, and the construction of a new five storey building. And it has been done for a relatively modest, but hard fought for, $21.4 million.

And not only has the Trust provided this magnificent physical environment for the performing arts, it has had the vision to establish the Performing Arts Foundation, which is intended to provide desperately needed funding for the performing arts throughout the country.

To committee members, trustees, architects, designers, contractors, city councillors, sponsors, donors, to all who contributed to this brilliant achievement, I can I know extend the thanks and congratulations of the entire community.

But all this is but a beginning. A theatre is, of itself, but a shell, well equipped and beautifully decorated though it may be. Into it must be breathed life, that life that players, singers and dancers offer us, that transforms the shell of a building into a magic place, where we are taken out of ourselves into other realms, of fantasy, of laughter, of tears, even of horror; or where we are drawn deep into our selves, stirred, challenged, forced to think about life and meaning, the human condition, our own destiny.

So it was with the old St James. We will all have our memories of the days of its glory. Every theatre must have its ghosts, its phantoms, and I am sure they are waiting about us to see what we make of this new creation. With a nod in the direction of the opening chorus of Henry V, they may perhaps be asking:

Can this Theatre hold
The vasty bounds of dance? or may we cram
Within this gilded O the very masques
That did delight the crowds of Fuller's day? 

[Rather than:

Can this cockpit hold
The vasty fields of France? or may we cram
Within this wooden O the very casques
That did affright the air at Agincourt?]


David Penfold has the responsibility for answering. He has undertaken his task with enthusiasm and I know he has an exciting programme ahead for us. I am sure that under his hand, we will all become as familiar with the restored St James as we were with the original, because we will return time and time again.

We begin tonight. Wellington has regained a special place; a place where "imagination bodies forth the forms of things unknown"; where "the poet's pen turns them to shapes, and gives to airy nothing a local habitation and a name". Although in our case, a bank has also got in on the naming business, and so has helped make this evening possible. And it is now my very great privilege and joy to declare this restored St James Theatre officially re-opened, under the new name of the WestpacTrust St James Theatre. And so:

Welcome to the Theatre
To the magic, to the fun!
Where painted trees and flowers grow,
And Laughter rings fortissimo,
And treachery's sweetly done.

As confirmation, I'm now going to unveil this commemorative plaque.

Last updated: 
Friday, 9 January 2009

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