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THE WELLINGTONIAN, AUGUST 11, 2011
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St James' phantom of the opera
Phantom menace: St James Theatre's resident ghost, Yuri, likes to play tricks on electricians in the theatre says
tour guide Bern McCabe.
Photo: LAURA WALTERS
The elusive Yuri
By LAURA WALTERS
Every self-respecting theatre any-
where in the world has a ghost.
And, according to Bern McCabe,
the St James is no exception.
Ms McCabe runs tours of St
James Theatre in Courtenay
Place, and when you ask her what
makes the beautiful old theatre
interesting and romantic she
doesn't tell you about the
ballerinas or the drama. She talks
Yuri was what Ms McCabe
referred to as the main presence
at the theatre. He was a Russian
dancer who became a fly-man
when he injured himself.
Yuri had the hots for a dancer,
but she rejected him in favour of
an electrician,'' said Ms McCabe.
She said it was unknown
whether Yuri killed himself out of
despair, fell from the fly-floor
above the stage or was pushed by
the dancer Pasha.
Since then there have been
numerous sightings of a tall, thin
man, about 30, in the theatre.
It does make the romance a
little bit more out-there,'' Ms
Theatre ghosts were possessive
of their theatre and Yuri seemed
to be no different, she said.
Different ushers, workers and
people visiting the theatre have
In the 1960s a projectionist said
that Yuri saved his life.
He almost stepped off the edge
of the fly-floor, about 15 metres
above the stage, when he was
pushed back to safety by some-
thing that felt like a packet of
As a result of Yuri's unfortunate
love experience, he had a thing
He was often playing tricks on
the staff, such as turning on the
lights after they had been turned
off, and fiddling with the wiring,
Ms McCabe said.
When the Icecapades came to
town the hosing that kept the
stage frozen broke.
Some people said it was a small
rupture made when unpacking,
but locals blamed it on Yuri, Ms
She described Yuri as mis-
chievous, but benevolent''.
Everybody refers to Yuri.
Whether there is any belief
behind that is anyone's guess.''
Although the Russian polter-
geist was the most active ghostly
resident, the theatre was said to
have other ghosts.
A boys' choir and a wailing
woman have made occasional
appearances. Film-maker Peter
Jackson talked about seeing the
wailing woman at the foot of his
bed in his apartment across from
the St James Theatre about 20
His wife also said she saw the
dead opera singer.
The St James Theatre was built
in 1912. Originally named His
Majesty's Theatre, it was con-
sidered an amazing design inno-
vation because it had fewer pillars
and did not follow the traditional
horseshoe shape of other opera
In the 1980s the theatre came
under threat of closure, but it was
saved, remodelled, and won an
architectural award when it was
re-opened in the early 1990s.
The vaudeville-sized stage was
extended as part of the re-model,
ready for the performances it
hosts today -- from ballet to ice-
Before she conducted tours at
the St James, Ms McCabe was an
usher at Wellington's Opera
The Opera House also had
ghostly guests, she said.
A former owner, Mr Liddy, com-
mitted suicide but was said to still
walk around the Opera House and
make it known when he was
unhappy with how it was being
run and what was being
The ghosts were not harmful,
especially if you identified your-
self as a theatre friend, Ms
McCabe said. In the end, it all
comes down to whether you
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