His Majesty's Theatre

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There have been three theatre venues in South Africa named His Majesty's Theatre, one in Pretoria (1901-) and two in Johannesburg (1903-? and 1946-1980).

His Majesty's Theatre, Pretoria (circa 1901-1918)

Some time after the death of Queen Victoria in 1901, the Empress Theatre (formerly known as the President Theatre), a venue originally constructed by hotelier Friederick Reck on the north-western side of Church Square, in the heart of Pretoria, was renamed His Majesty's Theatre. In 1918, on the death of the then manager Karl Reck, His Majesty's Theatre became the property of African Consolidated Theatres, who eventually converted it into a new venue called the Capitol Theatre, an ornate "atmospheric" theatre built in 1931 on north western corner of Church Square, on the same site.

For a fuller history of the venue, see the entry on the President Theatre

His Majesty's Theatre, Johannesburg (1903-)

This theatre opened as part of a neo-Baroque double-storey building on a stand bounded by Fox, Joubert and Commissioner streets in Johannesburg in 1903.

The venue was acquired by I.W. Schlesinger and his African Theatres Trust in 1917, to serve as an influential theatre and film venue till 1937, when the entire building was demolished to make way for a much larger new art deco building, containing the new His Majesty's Theatre (opened in 1946).

His Majesty's Theatre, Johannesburg (1946-1980)

The building

African Consolidated Theatres acquired the earlier theatre in 1931, and in 1937 commissioned J.C. Cook & Cowen to design a new theatre and office complex on the same site, the theatre venue occupying the central block between the office towers, which were topped with steel crowns. The end result a large and sumptuous venue that could be used for both films and stage performances, in a style that was known as an "atmospheric theatre" at the time. Forming part of the tall His Majesty's Building on Commissioner Street in Johannesburg, it was under construction from 1937 to 1941, but only opened its doors in December 1946. The inaugural ceremony was conducted by Prime Minister, General Jan Smuts. The opening show was a Phil Levard production of Robinson Crusoe.

In 1956 it was converted to serve exclusively as a film venue with the latest technology, often used for for blockbuster productions. It opened with Cecil B. De Mille's The Ten Commandments in 1956, followed by shows like Around The World In 80 Days, Lawrence of Arabia, Cleopatra, My Fair Lady and many others.

In 1978 it was leased by the Brickhill-Burke Company, who used it as a venue for live stage shows once more. The last theatre production to be staged here was their production of Hello Dolly! in 1980-1981, after which it was converted to shops and offices

Production history

The theatre housed a variety of shows ranging from imported musicals, opera, ballet, plays and major films.

Venue used by the Johannesburg Reps for their 1932 production of Dangerous Corner, produced under contract from African Consolidated Theatres (ACT). **In 1947 also the venue for the ACT sponsored Spoke and Hamlet , two influential Afrikaans productions which directly influenced Jan Smuts's government to provide funding for a national theatre (NTO). * It was used by Taubie Kushlick, Brickhill-Bourke, Pieter Toerien and others in the 1970s*?? for shows such as ***, ***, and ***. After bitter fights it was demolished in 19** to make way for a **

African Theatres imported Ivor Novello and his full company to tour his musical Perchance to Dream.

Siegfried Mynhardt directed an Afrikaans production of Hamlet in 1947 staged here, starring André Huguenet as the Prince of Denmark, and Michal Grobbelaar as Marcellus. ACT brought the Rodgers and Hammerstein hit Oklahoma! here in 1948.

Madam [Sarah Sylvia]] and her overseas company presented a season of Yiddish Theatre here in 1948, starring Max Perlman and his wife Guita Galena.

Macbeth in Afrikaans was staged here in 1950. It was directed by Gwen ffrangçon-Davies for the National Theatre and starred André Huguenet and Anna Neethling-Pohl. Brian Brooke did a season of three plays at His Majesty’s in 1950: Edward, My Son, which closed after five days; Traveller's Joy; See How They Run, the English farce by Philip King which was brought in to replace the ill fated Edward. Sarah Sylvia presented another season of Yiddish plays here in 1950. 1950 ended with African Theatres’ Christmas pantomime Cinderella starring British comedian Tommy Trinder as its star. Taubie Kushlick directed André Huguenet in the classic Greek Tragedy Oedipus Rex in 1951.

The Brian Brooke Company visited for a third time and played to capacity crowds in 1951. Brooke did a production of R.F. Delderfield’s English comedy A Worm's Eye View in Cape Town and Johannesburg, enjoying a run at His Majesty’s in 1951.

The vivacious Ethel Revnel performed here in 1952, topping the variety bill from the Palladium. The company included the Tiller Girls. Britain’s Wilson Barrett company followed the variety show. British stage and screen star Robert Flemyng played in The Little Hut in 1952.

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. African Consolidated Theatres presented Bernard Delfont’s London version of the Folies Bergère at His Majesty’s at the end of 1957. Yango John brought the Japanese Shochiku Revue Troupe form Tokyo’s Kokusai Theatre here in 1973.

Brickhill-Burke worked on a show for His majesty’s called Minstrel Follies starring Pat Gill in 1974. They took over the lease of the theatre forming a company with themselves as directors together with Graham English. They reopened His Majesty’s with the black musical Meropa featuring the Phoenix Players on 3 December 1974. Brickhill-Burke opened The Tempest, starring Hugh Rouse and James Ryan on 8 March 1975.

PACT staged Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and Des and Dawn Lindberg staged Pippin with music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz and direction, choreography and design by Des starring Hal Watters, Sammy Brown, Jo-Ann Pezarro, Bess Finney, Taliep Petersen, Sophia Foster, Robin Dolton and Andre Hattingh here in 1975.

Taubie Kushlick and Don Hughes presented Stephen Sondheim’s A Little Night Music, based on Ingmar Bergman’s film, Smiles of a Summer’s Night. Kushlick directed Maggie Fitzgibbon, Eric Flynn, Hal Watters, Erica Rogers and herself in this play which opened late October 1975.

Brickhill-Burke staged Gypsy starring Libby Morris, Kim Braden and Bonnie Langford here in the evenings in 1975 while they staged Shakespeare setwork pieces in the afternoons like Henry IV, Part 1, directed by John Sichel and starring Michael McGovern. PACT staged Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat again in 1976 with Alvon Collison replacing Richard Loring as the Narrator and Tim Rice, on a visit to South Africa, stepping in as Pharaoh. Brickhill-Burke and PACT revived The Sound of Music at His Majesty’s in June 1976. Direction and choreography were taken care of by Brickhill and Burke, the latter of which starred in this production together with Diane Todd, Jarmila Tellinger, Terry Lester and Judy Page.

To celebrate His Majesty’s 30th birthday Brickhill-Burke staged Follies Fantastique, starring Joan Brickhill, Alvon Collison and Beni Mason on 30 November 1976. Brickhill-Burke were responsible for the sets and costumes and the show ran until April 1977.

Night of January 16th, starring Heather Lloyd-Jones and Joe Stewardson was staged here in 1977. Graham English resigned from Brickhill-Burke as the company’s financial advisor and was succeeded by Christopher Seabrooke in 1977. The theatre was in serious financial difficulty and A Night of 100 Stars, starring actors who had agreed to complete a two-week run free of charge, opened on the 29th August 1977. Pieter Toerien transferred Roger Redfarn’s production of Murder Among Friends to His Majesty’s starring Moira Lister and Nigel Davenport in 1977. Grease, starring Danny Keogh, Leonie Hofmeyr, Eckard Rabe, Bruce Millar and Sue Kiel, was staged here in 1977 and ran until June the following year.

Brickhill and Burke ran a matinee season of Winnie the Pooh during December 1977. Brickhill and Burke staged the Broadway hit I Love my Wife by Michael Stewart starring Tobie Cronjé, Michael McGovern, Erica Rogers and Jessica Jones here in 1978. Joan Brickhill staged Annie, starring three young girls – Ashleigh Sendin, Diane Dupont and Memory Fick – rotating the title role, Claire Johnston playing a supporting role, Joe Stewardson, Judy Page and herself. It ran at His Majesty’s from November 1978 to March 1979.

Des and Dawn Lindberg staged The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas starring Victor Melleney, Judy Page and Annabel Linder under direction by Dawn in 1979.

NAPAC’s Christmas production was the musical called Christian, later renamed Follow that Man, inspired by Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress and was staged at His Majesty’s in 1980. It was written by Nick Taylor and starred Taylor and Barry Kent. Brickhill-Burke’s production of Neil Simon’s They're Playing Our Song with score by Marvin Hamlisch and lyrics by Carole Bayer Sager was staged here in 1980. It starred Marloe Scott-Wilson and Mike Huff. Brickhill-Burke then staged Neil Simon’s Last of the Red Hot Lovers starring Hal Orlandini, Melody O'Brian, Lynne Maree and Brenda Wood.

Brickhill-Burke staged Jerry Herman’s musical Hello Dolly! adapted from Thornton Wilder’s The Matchmaker here in 1980. It was directed by Louis Burke, starred Joan Brickhill, Victor Melleney, Mike Huff, Iain Henderson, Andrea Catzel, June Hern and Charles Stodel. This play saw the end of the Brickhill-Burke lease at the theatre and subsequently its closing.

The theatre was thereafter converted into shops and offices.

[JH, SH, TH]


Iris Reck. 2001. Reminiscences of Mrs Iris Reck, daughter-in-law of Karl Reck (15/4/2001), and documents she sent to the Centre for Theatre and Performance Studies at the University of Stellenbosch.

Marc Latilla. 2018. Johannesburg Then and Now. Penguin Random House South Africa. [1]

Ludwig Wilhelm Berthold Binge. 1969. Ontwikkeling van die Afrikaanse toneel (1832-1950). Pretoria: J.L. van Schaik: pp.

D.C. Boonzaier. 1923. "My playgoing days – 30 years in the history of the Cape Town stage", in SA Review, 9 March and 24 August 1923. (Reprinted in Bosman 1980: pp. 374-439.)

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



SACD 1973; SACD 1975/76.

South African Digest, November 1979.

P.J. du Toit. 1988. Amateurtoneel in Suid-Afrika. Pretoria: Academica Publishers

Percy Tucker. 1997. Just the Ticket. My 50 Years in Show Business. Johannesburg: Witwatersrand University Press.

A souvenir programme for Hello, Dolly!, the final Brickhill-Burke production at His Majesty's Theatre, Johannesburg, from 5 November 1980 to 28 February 1981.

A special commemorative issue , of Scenaria for His Majesty's Theatre, published in 1980. NELM Location: [Collection: FARMER, Anthony]: 2007. 18. 13. 539).

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