The Garrison Players is one of a number of names given to groups of (usually amateur) actors attached to the local British garrison, presenting theatrical entertainments for themselves and the general public in Cape Town and elsewhere where garrisons were stationed (e.g. Grahamstown, King Williamstown, Port Elizabeth and Pietermaritzburg).
Also found as the Garrison Company ( Garnisoengeselskap in Dutch and Afrikaans) , the Garrison Amateur Company, Officers of the Garrison, the Dramatic Club of the Garrison, Gentlemen of the Garrison and so on.
See also Garrison Theatre
The Cape Town Companies
The influence of the French garrison was mostly felt indirectly, through the activities of French speaking citizens and amateur companies. But the influence of the British forces was far more direct and influential.
Before 1819 performers attached to the British garrison were variously known as the Garrison Players, the Officers of the Garrison, Garrison Amateur Company or the English Theatricals, and after 1819 tended to be referred to as the Gentlemen Amateurs, Garrison Amateur Company, the Gentlemen Amateur Company (circa 1828), or simply the Amateur Company, and for a while Captain Hall's Company (1850-1855).
A number of regiments did productions under their own names, through normally under the umbrella of the Garrison theatrical activities. Among them the 27th Enniskillen Regiment (1838), the 73rd Regiment (Captain Hall's Company, 1850-1852), the 86th Royal Downshire Regiment (1869 - including the 86th Royal Downshire Minstrels), the 90th Light Infantry (1847-50), the 99th Regiment (also known as the 99th Lanarkshire Regiment, and hosting both the Lanarkshire Dramatic Club and the Lanarkshire Glee Club),
See also the entry on Garrison Theatre
From 1823 onwards they made a point of differentiating themselves from the local civilian amateurs, who now called themselves the English Theatricals. The two groups apparently competed heavily with one another for audiences, also for use of the African Theatre. The Garrison Players also used a theatre in the barracks, known as the Barracks Theatre or the Garrison Theatre.
The Garrison Players existed in one form or another from the very first occupation of the Cape by the British (1799) to 18** and no doubt exerted a strong influence on the form and nature of theatre and the performing arts in the Cape for more than a century, ultimately helping to shape the growth of an indigenous form of western performance in the country.
The original productions took place in found spaces in the barracks of the garrison. With the opening of The African Theatre in 1800, they usually performed there. From 1838 onwards, with the closing of The African Theatre, they apparently reverted to using a new theatre space , set up in the New Barracks in Cape Town.
Numerous officers were members of the company, in its various manifestations, over the years. Some of the names prominently or specifically mentioned are:
Captain Frazer, Captain Collins, Lieutenant Charles Napier, Mr Hamilton, Mr Strawbenzee, Captain Hall, Captain Fisher, Corporal Bishop, Lieutenant Pasley, Mr Longley, Mr Gleadowe, Mr Wilson, Mr Stock, Major Sturgeon, Major Lomax, Mr Carloss, Mr Stuart, Mr Young, Sargeant Ramsford.
The company apparently also used local amateurs on occasion, including a number of (often unnamed) ladies in later years. Names that occur (and could be members of the Garrison or amateurs) include J.L. Fitzpatrick, Mr Pitt, Mr Salter, Mr Kirton, Mr Henslowe and Mr Belleville, Mr Hopley, . Mr W.G. Groom is mentioned as a technician in some cases.
In 1818 they formed a working relationship with Mr Cooke and his company of performers from the Theatre Royal, Liverpool, to put on a range of performances in the African Theatre under the name the Gentlemen Amateurs. (See the Gentlemen Amateurs)
Performances over the years
Though it is clear there were performances by officers of the garrison as early as 1799, little is known of the actually works performed until somewhat later, since the name of the company kept varying. However, among the known productions by officers from the garrison (performing under a number of names) in the long period of British rule were:
In 1802: The Prisoner at Large and The Agreeable Surprise (31 March); Three Weeks after Marriage and The Devil to Pay (10 May); The Little Hunchback, or A Frolic in Bagdad , The Interlude of the Magic Zone and The Cunning Wife, or The Lover in the Sack (28 June).
Here a break occurs, as the Cape is handed back to the Dutch republic, known as the Batavian Republic and supported by the French, and during this brief time - known as the Batavian period - French Theatre flourished and Cape Town became known as "Little Paris". It lasted a short while, till the re-annexation of the Cape by British forces on 18 January, 1806.
In 1811: Lovers' Vows and Raising the Wind (27 July,); The Rivals and The Mock Doctor, or The Dumb Lady Cur'd (17 August); The Honey Moon and High Life Below Stairs (31 August); The Honey Moon and The Review, or The Wags of Windsor (21 September).
In 1812: The Review, or The Wags of Windsor and John Bull, or an Englishman's Fireside (18 January); Speed the Plough and The Irishman in London (6 July); and A Cure for the Heart Ache and The Jew and the Doctor (12 July).
In 1818: This year the company's season was undertaken with the help of Mr Cooke and his company of ladies from the Theatre Royal, Liverpool, playing together under the name the Gentlemen Amateurs (see Gentlemen Amateurs for full repertoire of 1818). Plays included were John Bull, or an Englishman's Fireside and Bombastes Furioso (28th March); She Stoops to Conquer, or The Mistakes of a Night and The Poor Soldier (16 May);
In 1850: Richelieu, or The Conspiracy and The Original (24 April); Richelieu, or The Conspiracy and My New Wife and My Old Umbrella (8 May); The Lancers , A Lover by Proxy! or My Daughter Sir! and "a repeat of" My Young Wife and My Old Umbrella (29 May); The Rose of Arragon and The Practical Man (31 July); The Rose of Arragon and Shocking Events (9 August); A New Way to Pay Old Debts and The Sentinel (11 September); A New Way to Pay Old Debts and Box and Cox (17 September); Delicate Ground! , The Sentinel , A Lover by Proxy, and Box and Cox (26 September).
In 1851: No performances by a Garrison company are recorded for this year by Bosman], apparently because regiment was tied up with the Border Wars of 1850-1853. However, he suggests that some members may have played for W.F.H. Parker's company in this period.
In 1853: The Illustrious Stranger, Bombastes Furioso and Did You Ever Send Your Wife to Camberwell? (14 September); Power and Principle , Circumstantial Evidence and Box and Cox (31 October and 7 November).
In 1854: St Cupid, A Bloomer's Costume and Perfection (2 May); The Rent Day , The Spitalfields Weaver and The Queen's Horse ( 5 June); The Two Bonnycastles and The Honeymoon (18 August and 4 September); Honesty is the Best Policy , The Spitalfields Weaver and Middle Temple (18 September).
In 1855: For much of this year, it appears that the company members helped out with professional productions in Cape Town by visiting companies and performers (e.g. G.V. Brooke and James Lycett). Only late in the year we hear of a production by the 73rd Regiment itself, when they did Grace Huntley, or The Follies of Youth (Holl), Comfortable Lodgings, or Paris in 1750 (Peake) and a new "Grand Ballet" on 28 September.
In 1870: "dramatic club" (probably of the 86th Royal Downshire Regiment) put on a few charity performances late in the year, including The Illustrious Stranger (22 November); a burlesque version of The Colleen Bawn, If the Cap Fits and The Unfinished Gentleman (14 December).
Companies in other towns
There is scant information to be found on the military theatre in other parts of the country. However, Bosman and Laidler do have a few references.
F.C.L. Bosman (1928: 506-8) specifically mentions a few productions by the "Officers of the Garrison" in Grahamstown during 1853, the plays done including Love à la Mode (Macklin) and The Three Clerks (Oxberry) on 11 October.
F.C.L. Bosman (1980, p. 299) tells of amateur performances put on by the officers and men of the 32nd Light Infantry in Grahamstown in 1868/9(?), the plays on one occasion including A Wonderful Woman () and The Bride of Abydos (), presented in the presence of the Lieutenant Governor and the local elite, and on another a "plantation burlesque" called King Richard the III was performed, accompanied by a "plantation dance".
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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