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Gaiety, besides is used in various ways to refer to human emotions and activities, is also a specific theatrical term.

The general use of term "Gaiety"

Gaiety (or in some cases "Gayety") may refer to:

A specific kind of mood: i.e. the state of being happy, light-hearted or cheerful

A specific kind of activity: i.e. a lively celebration or set of festivities, performance activity, entertainments or amusements. Some sources refer to this as a dated use of the word.

For more on the term, see the entry on "Gaiety" in Wikipedia (

"Gaiety" as a theatre and performance term

From the latter notion of Gaiety as a reference to a broad range of activities, comes the theatrical use of the term, especially in the late 19th century and early 20th centuries, which refers to a specific type of light musical entertainment that became popular in the second half of(often in vaudeville style), the people/companies that engage in such performance, and/or the venues used for such performances.

The Gaiety Theatre[1] in London, was one of the most prominent venues for musical comedy and had a major influence on the development of the modern musical comedy. In the 1890sthe theatre introduced new style of musical theatre in London, later referred to as the Edwardian musical comedy. These productions featured female dancers known as the Gaiety Girls and were immensely popular, and were imitated by other London theatres.

Several sources refer to the musical comedy In Town (Ross, Leader and Carr, 1892) as "the first Edwardian musical comedy" and even refer to it - along with A Gaiety Girl (Hall, 1893), as "the start of the Gaiety movement in theatre"[2]. Another successful work was The Shop Girl (Dam, et. al., 1894). The two latter works were soon followed by many other "girl"-themed musicals.

Among the terms derived from the Gaiety idea, are Gaiety performances, Gaiety Companies, Gaiety Girls, Gaiety Theatres, etc.

Gaiety companies in South Africa

The name Gaiety Company was often used for theatre companies performing musical comedy in South Africa and impressarios such as Frank de Jong and in particular Frank and Ben Wheeler were very prominent in the promotion of Gaiety entertainment in South Africa in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The "Original" Gaiety Company

According to Boonzaier (1923), the first Gaiety Company (he refers to it as the "original") made its appearance in Cape Town in 1894, setting a high standard for and beginning a popular trend in musical comedy that would become a feature of South African theatre at the start of the 20th century. He appears to be referring to a company led by Cairns James (and popularly referred to as the Cairns James Company), that appeared under the auspices of the Wheeler Theatre Company. The season predictably opened with a performance of In Town (Ross, Leader and Carr) on 9 June 1894, followed by Mam'zelle Nitouche (Meilhac and Millaud), Miss Decima (Burnand), A Gaiety Girl (Hall).

Frank de Jongh's Gaiety companies

The name Gaiety Company was most notable in the case of theatrical companies brought to Cape Town by Frank de Jongh, lessee of the Cape Town Opera House from 1896-1937. These companies consisted of well-known overseas performers and artistes, including Zena Dare, Matheson Lang, Sybil Thorndike, Lewis Casson, Irene Vanbrugh and Kate Vaughan in a variety of plays, operas and ballets.

The Edward Sass Gaiety Company

On 1 June 1895 a new Gaiety Company, led by Edward Sass, performed a number of plays in the Opera House, Cape Town, under the auspices of the Wheeler Theatre Company. Other company members included James Nelson, J.H. Darnley, J.B. Gordon, Emma Glynne and Ada Logan. Their repertoire included The New Woman (Grundy), Doctor Bill (Carré /Aidé), The Case of Rebellious Susan (Jones), Liberty Hall (Dibdin), The Solicitor (Darnley), The Masqueraders (Jones), The Second Mrs Tanqueray (Pinero) and The Bauble Shop (Jones). According to Boonzaier (1923), Sass was an excellent manager and most punctilious about the mise-en-scène of his productions.

The Gaiety productions of the Wheeler Theatre Company

From 1901 onwards, the Wheeler Theatre Company mostly used the Good Hope Theatre as their in Cape Town and apparently began to concentrate more specifically on Gaiety musical comedies and light opera, using companies they set up themselves or imported Gaiety companies. According to Boonzaier (1923) , "they may be said to have created almost a monopoly for themselves in South Africa" in these fields. They now mostly used the Good Hope Theatre as their in Cape Town to host companies to put on a wide range of Gaiety shows there. Among the many relevant pieces seen there in the period 1901-1903 were San Toy (Morton), A Runaway Girl (Hicks and Nichols), Florodora (Hall), The Geisha (Hall), The Messenger Boy (Tanner and Murray), Kitty Grey (Pigott), The Shop Girl (Dam et. al.), Djin Djin (Royle and Williamson), The Gay Parisienne (Dance), The Casino Girl (Smith), A Country Girl (Tanner), The Girl from Kay's (Hall), Three Little Maids (Rubens), The School Girl (Manchester and Maurice) and The Lady Slavey (Dance).

The Greene and Brickwell Gaiety Company

The newly formed company, headed by Frank Greene and Maimie Brickwell, performed in the Opera House, Cape Town, probably under the auspices of the lessee Leonard Rayne, at the end of 1906, putting on The Dairymaids (Thompson and Courneidge) and The Blue Moon (Ellis and Greenbank). In 1907 they put on two more pieces, The Catch of the Season (Hicks and Hamilton) and The Beauty of Bath (Hicks and Hamilton).

A new Gaiety Company, Opera House, 1908

At the beginning of 1908, a new (but unnamed) Gaiety Company put on The Girls of Gottenburg (Grossmith et. al.) and The Little Minchus (Vanloo & Duval/Hamilton) at the Opera House, Cape Town. Possibly they also did The Spring Chicken (Jaime & Duval/Grossmith) and The Forty Thieves (unnamed author)


F.C.L. Bosman. 1980. Drama en Toneel in Suid-Afrika, Deel II, 1856-1912. Pretoria: J.L. van Schaik: pp.398-427

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