Empire Theatre

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The name given to a number of venues in South Africa over the years.

The Empire Theatre, Bloemfontein


A short-lived variety theatre which opened in Bloemfontein during 1905, which, according to J. Haasbroek (1998), was "not only the first real theatre in Bloemfontein, but also the only variety theatre ever founded in the city, at a time when this type of theatre was already well-established in other parts of the country". It was a going concern for only about one month.


J. Haasbroek, South African Journal of Cultural History Vol. 12, Issue 2, November, 1998

The Empire Theatre, Johannesburg

There have been three theatres in Johannesburg referred to by this name, though the first two were actually variety theatres, officially called the Empire Palace of Varieties in both cases:

"First Empire Theatre", or the "Old Empire Theatre" 1894-1903

This usually refers to Empire Palace of Varieties, the new name given to the Globe Theatre (1889-1994) in Johannesburg when it reopened on the 1st December 1894.

See Empire Palace of Varieties, Johannesburg

"Second Empire Theatre", 1906- 1936

This usually refers to the second, far more famous, Empire Palace of Varieties, built in 1906 at 135/7 Commissioner Street (corner of Kruis Street) to replace the one which had apparently burnt down in 1903.

See Empire Palace of Varieties, Johannesburg

The Empire Theatre 1935-1971

This is the only formal Johannesburg theatre to actually carry the name Empire Theatre.


A theatre and picture palace in Commissioner Street, Johannesburg, built by African Consolidated Theatres in 1936, on the site of the demolished Empire Palace of Varieties at 135/7 Commissioner Street (corner of Kruis Street). It became one of the most active theatres in the city for many years.

The site on which the theatre stood gradually became immensely valuable and eventually was pulled down in April 1971. This occurred in a period of much public protest from the artistic community, the press and the general population about the disappearing theatres, most notably the old Standard Theatre.

Productions there

The theatre was at the heart of the entertainment business in Johannesburg, and saw hundreds of productions come and go over the almost 35 years of its active existence, a large number of them initiated or sponsored by African Consolidated Theatres, the owners of the venue. Some highlights among the many productions done there over the years, include:

1939: Die Kwaksalwer (Molière), with André Huguenet and Berdine Grunewald

1940s: The Desert Song (Romberg, Hammerstein, Harbach and Mandel)

1941: Tosca (directed by John Connell)

1945: Aladdin (with Ivy Tresmand).

1959: Bo Jungle by Bertha Egnos in association with African Theatres

1962; My Fair Lady (with Diane Todd and David Oxley).

1963: The King and I (Rogers and Hammerstein), directed by Des Morley

1964: The Moulin Rouge Show[1] from Paris, presented on a special stage set designed by Anthony Farmer for ACT.

1965: Ballet dancer Zizi Jeanmaire[2] live (in a large-scale revue).

1966: The Minstrel Scandals by Joan Brickhill and Louis Burke

1969: Fiddler on the Roof , directed by Taubie Kushlick

1970: The first stage production of West Side Story in South Africa, directed by Kip Andrews for the Academy Theatre.

1970: All-New, Non-Stop Minstrel Scandals(Brickhill-Burke) This proved to be the closing show for the Empire.


Percy Tucker, 1997

Johannesburg 1912 – Suburb by suburb research (Blog by Marc Latilla): Theatres in early Johannesburg,(Posted: July 29, 2013 at 9:25 pm)[3]

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