African Consolidated Theatres

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African Consolidated Theatres (ACT) was a national theatre and film organization active in the country for much of the 20th century.

Also found as African Consolidated Theatres Ltd., but colloquially referred to simply as African Theatres or by its acronym: ACT.


Beginnings with African Theatres Trust

The African Theatres Trust was founded by I.W. Schlesinger and A.H. Stodel (Harry Stodel), with the intention of saving the ailing theatre industry by organizing it nationwide. They pooled their resources to gradually gain control of theatres and cinema halls across the country and set about bringing out dramatic, musical and pantomime companies to tour their circuit.

According to Groom (in Bosman, 1980: p. 435) the Trust first made its presence felt in the country in 1911, though Percy Tucker (1997: ) says it was only founded in 1913.

African Consolidated Theatres (ACT)

Eventually this empire grew to encompass the mighty cinema industry as well and was renamed African Consolidated Theatres (or simply ACT) in 19**. Soon the company became central to the development of professional theatre and film in the country, and remained so till its demise in 1916*1961?.

Between 1920 and 1960 virtually no-one could play the cities without the support and involvement of ACT, or at least utilizing their facilities.For example it bought the wardrobe of the Graaff-Reinet Amateur Dramatic and Musical Society upon its disbandment for £2000. In 1932 they contracted the Johannesburg REPS for a production of Dangerous Corner in His Majesty’s Theatre and in 1933 for one of Shaw’s Arms and the Man. In 1941, when the outbreak of war had seriously curtailed professional theatre in South Africa, African Theatres once again invited the REPS to take over the Standard Theatre, and from then till the end of war in 1945, almost all of its work was ceded to the REPS. They later collaborated with NTO on a number of projects as well. (For the plays done or supported by ACT, see Part 3, Sections 4a and 4b) (See Du Toit, 1988; Bosman 1981; Fletcher, 1994, Kruger, 1999, Stodel, 196*; Tucker 1997) **THIS NEEDS SERIOUS RESEARCH AND EXPANSION** [TH] African Consolidated Theatres (ACT): Hymie Udwin was an executive at ACT for many years.Company responsible for productions of amongst others Robinson Crusoe, Night must fall and The corn is green. Night must fall by Emlyn Williams was a play that André Huguenet performed in as a psychopathic killer. One of his first English performances. 1940. They produced The Desert Song in the early Forties, which was staged at the Empire. They also produced Alice in Wonderland based on the book by Lewis Caroll. Produced by Phil Levard at the Standard Theatre in 1941. African Theatres invited John Connell to present his operas, such as Tosca, at the Empire in 1941. The Sleeping Beauty by ****, was a pantomime produced at the Empire Theatre in 1942. Phil Levard directed/produced The peepshow of 1945, in 1945. George Formby performed for ACT at the Colosseum Theatre in 1946. Brought the Rodgers and Hammerstein hit Oklahoma! To His Majesty’s in 1948. Choreographed by Agnes De Mille. Starring La Verne Burden opposite Bob Lyon. Imported Ivor Novello and his full company to tour his musical Perchance to Dream which appeared at His Majesty's. They imported Irving Berlin’s musical, Annie Get Your Gun in 1949 starring Bonita Primrose and Bob Lyon, both from Oklahoma! fame. Jimmy Mackenzie was responsible for publicity at this time. In 1950 they staged Brigadoon, directed by Phil Levard. This was the last production which he directed for ACT. It starred imported leads Louise Boyd and Michael O’Dowd. Olive King and June Hern were two notable local artists who were used in the chorus and in feature parts. Their imports of Italian companies reigned supreme between 1951 and 1956. They invited three of Brian Brooke’s productions to be part of their 1949 touring circuit: Coward’s Present Laughter, directed by John Roberts. Starring Brian Brooke, Petrina Brooke and Cynthia Klette; No Room at the Inn, directed by Brian starring Petrina; The Heiress, directed by Leonard Schach. 1950 ended with African Theatres’ usual Christmas pantomime Cinderella starring British comedian Tommy Trinder as its star at His Majesty’s. 1952 ended with their production of Dick Whittington, for which they brought out Terry-Thomas. This pantomime was directed by Frank Rogaly. Act booked Danny Kaye, a stand-up comedian to play in Johannesburg in1954. ACT brought Maurice Schwartz and his Yiddish Art Theatre Company from New York to His Majesty’s in 1954. Taubie Kushlick celebrated her quarter-century in the theatre by directing two American plays in 1955 at His Majesty’s in association with ACT. The first was The Desperate Hours starring Bill Brewer and Sadie Festenstein, and the other, The Fifth Season, starring the American actor Joseph Buloff. ACT brought out Sir Edmund Hillary to give lectures at the Plaza Theatre in 1955. ACT presented Bernard Delfont’s London version of the Folies Bergère at His Majesty’s Theatre at the end of 1957. They presented the American musical, The Pajama Game in 1958. It marked the Broadway choreographic debut of Bob Fosse, and starred the young English actor, Michael McGovern, who stayed on to become one of our leading actors. Bertha Egnos staged Bo Jungle in association with African Theatres at the Empire in 1959. They presented My Fair Lady, starring Diane Todd and David Oxley, at the Empire in 1962. It played to 234 packed houses before repeating its success in Cape Town and Durban. They imported Lilac Time from Tom Arnold as part of the Johannesburg Festival in 1964. This operetta starred Marion Studholme and Thomas Round. Anthony Farmer staged and designed the sets of the Moulin Rouge show from Paris for ACT at the Empire in 1964. They presented Zizi Jeanmaire at the Empire in a large-scale revue in 1964. They also presented British comedian Bruce Forsyth in 1964. They brought The Seekers to the Colosseum in 1966. Joan Brickhill and Louis Burke co-devised The Minstrel Scandals for ACT, which opened at the Alhambra in Cape Town before playing at the Empire in 1966. Frank Lazarus did the vocal arrangements, Boris Cohen was the musical director, and performers included Aubrey Ellis, Lynton Burns, Olive King, Michael Fisher, Stephanie Shiller, Beryl Ellis, Jeanette James, Ronnie Grainge and Charles Stodel with Joan Brickhill playing the lead girl. Together with Goerge and Alfred Black, they presented Michael Bentine, Joe Baker and Jane Fyffe in Let Yourself Go during the Christmas season of 1967. Taubie Kushlick directed Fiddler on the Roof for ACT at the Empire in 1969. It starred Simon Israeli and Lya Dulizkaya ***

Sources

Tucker, 1997, Du Toit, 1988; Bosman 1980; Fletcher, 1994, Kruger, 1999, Stodel, 196*; Tucker 1997

"A History of the South African Film Industry timeline" 1895-2003, South African History Online [1]

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