James Lycett

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(18**-18**)Influential Freemason, businessman, prospector, hotelier(?) and amateur actor and manager.


Born in England, he had been an amateur actor in Stratford upon Avon, where he had acquired a love of Shakespeare.

Lycett and his family arrived in the Cape from England in 1848. It appears that he lived in, owned ad/or managed the London Hotel in Cape Town, since theatre tickets could be obtained from him there. Among his business ventures was a prospecting trip to Namaqualand, in search of copper, in 1852. He was also a Freemason, and on his arrival in Cape Town became the Noble Grandmaster of a newly founded Lodge in Bree Street.

His contribution to South African theatre

Shortly after his arrival in Cape Town, he organised an English amateur company, often referred to as Lycett's Company, to raise funds for the Masonic Lodge; and apparently he soon became a leading spirit in Cape amateur theatricals, doing full plays, both in private productions and public performances.

First phase 1848-1852

Initially, in 1848, he may have performed something in the Drury Lane Theatre, but in 1849 he fitted up Haupt's wine store at 21 Hope Street as a theatre. The opening performance was (possibly?) Shakespeare’s Richard the Third with Lycett as "Richard". In July 1850 they repeated this performance in the Drury Lane Theatre, which Lycett had taken and fitted up and refurbished. This production established his name in Cape Town theatre.

There would follow William Tell and The Party Wall (Friday, 6 September 1850); The Devil's Elixir, or The Shadowless Man and Twice Killed (Oxenford) on Saturday 24 November, 1850; and between 1850 and 1852 he did a few more plays, among them a performance of Pizarro, or The Conquest of Mexico.

However, hereafter he seemed to have become otherwise occupied for a while, at least till after Sefton Parry’s arrival in 1855.

Second phase 1855-

In 1855 he appears to have begun performing again, setting up a company with the help of non-commissioned officers from the Garrison. They apparently worked with the company Amateurs of Cape Town and also performed for professional companies, such as Sefton Parry in this period. Shows by Parry include Used Up, or The Peer and the Ploughboy (Boucicault) and Family Jars (Lunn).

Lycett was accidentally wounded on stage in 1858 while playing Macduff to Sefton Parry's Macbeth.

[TH, JH]


F.C.L. Bosman, 1928: pp. 412-428; 480-503.

F.C.L. Bosman, 1980:

Laidler, 1926;

Du Toit, 1988

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