Gentlemen Amateurs

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The Gentlemen Amateurs or the Gentlemen Amateur Company seem to have been terms utilized to refer to amateur performers working with professional companies in Cape Town. Evidently these "Gentlemen Amateurs" were various members of the public who came together occasionally and staged performances for the amusement of the Cape audiences - though F.C.L. Bosman (1928) argues convincingly that it is most probably a reference to "Gentlemen of the Garrison" hence the Garrison Players or Garrison Amateur Company. The name Gentlemen Amateur Company also occurs circa 1828, in the same sense.

The name is later taken up by private companies as well, for example by J.E.H. English in 1858.

See also the entry on Military Entertainment

The 1818 season and the performers from Liverpool

The company

The first reference to this term appears to be in January 1818 when there is mention of the “Gentlemen Amateurs” who were assisted by four actors from the Royal Theatre, Liverpool, namely Mr Cooke, Mrs Cooke, Miss Williams and Mrs Brough with a season in the African Theatre. They began with The Honey Moon, or How to Rule a Wife and The Devil to Pay on 24th January 1818 and ended their visit on 21 November 1818 with Catherine and Petrucchio, Crochet Lodge, and a divertissiment called Sandy and Jenny, or Love in a Sack, played as a benefit performance for Mr Cooke.

The English performers left the Cape left the Cape for Calcutta at the end of November 1818, [JH/TH]

Their repertoire

The rest of their repertoire included Lovers' Vows and No Song, No Supper (31 January); Speed the Plough and The Spoiled Child (7 February); John Bull, or An Englishman's Fireside and Bombastes Furioso (28 March); The Honey Moon once more and The Weathercock (11 April); The Will and The Lying Valet (25 April); She Stoops to Conquer and The Poor Soldier (16 May); Sighs, or The Daughter (from Armuth und Edelstein by Von Kotzebue) and Fortune's Frolic (30 May); The Road to Ruin and Valentine and Orson (13 June); The School for Scandal and Chrono(h)ontonthologus (27 June); Wild Oats and Valentine and Orson (11 July); The Wandering Boys and The Mock Doctor (25 July); The Tale of Mystery and A House to be Sold (8 August); Douglas and The Romp (22 August); The Birth Day and The Miller and his Men (5 September); Douglas and Sy(i)lvester Daggerwood (19 September).

The season was followed by three benefit performances for the three professional ladies from Liverpool, and ended with one for Mr Cooke. The performances for the ladies were: The Wandering Boys, followed by The Bird Duet and The Miller and His Men for Mrs Cooke on 26 September; the company held a benefit performance , doing Othello and The Poor Soldier for Miss Williams on 24 October; and The Will and Two Strings to your Bow for Mrs Brough on 7 November.


The 1828-1829 season by officers of the Garrison

A company referred to by this name performed a few plays in the African Theatre during 1829, according to Bosman (1928, pp. 192-3) most likely to have been some officers of the Garrison.

They performed inter alia The Miller and his Men (Pocock), and The Irish Tutor (Glengall) on 2 January and The Poor Gentleman (Colman Jr) and Billy Button (Astley).

The 1855 season and Sefton Parry

In 1855 we find another reference to the “Gentlemen Amateurs” who assisted Sefton Parry with a performance of Used Up and Family Jars performed in the Drawing Room Theatre, Cape Town.

The 1858 company of J.E.H. English

This company was one brought together by the British elocutionist, impersonator and singer of comic songs, J.E.H. English, when he broke with Sefton Parry in 1859. The company was made up of English himself and a number of competent amateurs , some of them also former Parry performers. Among the names found were Mr Gough, Charles Fraser, Mrs English, Mrs Charles Fraser, Mrs Delmaine, Miss Delmaine, Mr Rowlands, Mr Beverley, Mr Walter, Mr Dell, Mr Dillon, Mr Weslon, Mr Harton, Mr Seaton, Mr Rennox, Mr Loeber, Mr Morlyand Miss Belmont. (Except for Fraser and Gough, they all appear in the programme for The Corsican Brothers, as cited by F.C.L. Bosman, 1980, for example.)

They initially performed in the New Music Hall, which English had had constructed in an existing building in Buitekant Street, Cape Town in the year 1858, and later in the Harrington Street Theatre for their second season of 1958. Their repertoire included a vaudeville-style entertainment he called A Portfolio of Oddities (impersonations and sketches performed by English himself) and Minstrelsy performances by Mr Gough (e.g. Carolina Minstrels and Jim Crow's Dance), as well as a number of plays, particularly later in the season. Among them: The Victor Vanquished (Dance), The Boots of Swan (Selby), A Bachelor of Arts (Hardwick), Box and Cox (Morton), The Hard Struggle (Marston), The Bengal Tiger (Dance), The Merchant of Venice (Shakespeare), Did You Ever Send your Wife to Camberwell? (), Married Life (Buckstone), Out on the Sly, or A Day at Rosherville (Anon.), The Corsican Brothers (Boucicault), A Conjugal Lesson (Danvers) and Othello (Shakespeare)

Sources

F.C.L. Bosman, 1928. Drama en Toneel in Suid-Afrika, Deel I: 1652-1855. Pretoria: J.H. de Bussy. [1]: pp. 151-177

F.C.L. Bosman. 1980. Drama en Toneel in Suid-Afrika, Deel II, 1856-1912. Pretoria: J.L. van Schaik: pp. 118-123,

Jill Fletcher. 1994. The Story of Theatre in South Africa: A Guide to its History from 1780-1930. Cape Town: Vlaeberg.

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