Johannesburg Repertory Society

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Also known affectionally as the Johannesburg Reps or the Jo’burg Reps, or just The Reps. One of the most important and influential amateur dramatic societies of the 20th century.

Origins

Derived from the Johannesburg Repertory Playreading Society, founded in 1927.


Founding

(1928-1978 - Founded on 15 November 1927 by Muriel Alexander and 15 of the students from her Alexander School of Drama and Elocution with the intention to perform serious theatre not then available from the existing commercial groups. Its first production was the brothers Çapek’s R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots) in 1928, and by 1930 they were staging six productions a year. During the first ten years of its existence a total of sixty-six productions were mounted. The productions were of such outstanding quality that in 1932 the REPS were contracted by the commercial company African Consolidated Theatres to stage a production of Dangerous Corner for them. In 1933 they were again contracted by African Consolidated Theatres (now simply known as African Theatres) to stage Shaw’s Arms and the Man. Aside from Alexander’s professional experience, the REPS also employed many other professional directors, including Joan Heymann, Gwen ffrangçon-Davies, Marda Vanne, Nan Munro, Margaret Inglis and André Huguenet. From 1933 until 1965, the REPS also published their own bimonthly magazine, Playtime. Initially they used the badly-equipped Jewish Guild-hall as a venue, but from 1936 they used the Little Theatre in the new Johannesburg Library-Complex. In 1941, the REPS were invited by African Theatres to perform in the prestigious Standard Theatre, then the best venue in Johannesburg. During this time the company had to restrict its membership to 1400 members, which was the seating capacity of the theatre, but were so popular that a waiting-list had to be established. After the war ended, the REPS once again had to oscillate between the Standard and Little Theatre. However, plans to acquire an own, permanent venue came to fruition with the opening of the Reps Theatre (Johannesburg Repertory Theatre) in 1951. It was renamed the Alexander Theatre in 1960. This development allowed the membership to expand to around 4000 members (by 1955) and the REPS finally became a fully professional company, with Anthony Farmer as resident director and director of the company from 1954. When he left, he was briefly replaced (for one production) by Anthony Cullen. However, amateur productions were also continued through the REPS Associate Players, which had been originally established in 1949 to cater for younger members. The Associate Players later changed its name to the Repertory Amateur Player Section, and eventually became a completely independent organisation, the Repertory Amateur Players Society (RAPS). The society finally closed down (??) and sold the Alexander Theatre to PACT in 1978(???**).

Production highlights of their history include Shaw’s The Millionairess (1940), Coward’s Fumed Oak (1940), ***, ***, Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men (1940), Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest (1940), Ardrey’s Thunder Rock (1940), Kaufmann and Hart’s The Man Who Came to Dinner (1941), Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of an Author (1941), Double Door (1941), Emlyn Williams’s The Late Chrisptopher Bean (1942), Clare Boothe’s The Women (1942), Giraudoux’s Amphitryon 38 (1942), O’Neill’s Anna Christie (1942), The Light of Heart (1943), The Flashing Stream (1943), Ferber and Kaufmann’s Stage Door (1943), Shaw’s The Doctor’s Dilemma (1944), Sheridan’s The Rivals (1944), Dane’s Granite (1944), Life with Father (1944), Rebecca*? (1944), Romeo and Juliet (195*), House of Bernarda Alba (1952?*), Ackland’s The Old Ladies (1953), The Confidential Clerk (195*?), ********. Aspects of the history of the Reps and the Alexander Theatre are discussed a book by Arthur Hoffmann and Anna Romain Hoffmann (They Built a Theatre, Ad Donker 1980). (See also Johannesburg Repertory Theatre and the Alexander Theatre.) Johannesburg Repetory Players (REPS), later the Alexander: Purpose built theatre. Company founded by Muriel Alexander. Later became home to PACT. Performed Shaw’s The Millionairess and Noël Coward’s Fumed Oak at The Standard Theatre 1939.

Also: The Importance of being Earnest by Oscar Wilde. Performed in the Library Theatre, 1939. Of Mice and Men based on the book by John Steinbeck. Performed in the Library Theatre, 1939 starring Sid James. Thunder Rock by American playwright Robert Ardrey, directed by Minna Schneier, 1940. Performed the Doctor’s Dilemma by George Bernard Shaw 1944. Performed The Rivals by Richard Sheridan 1944. TheMan who came to dinner by Kaufmann and Hart. Performed in 1941 starring André Huguenet and Margaret Inglis, directed by Leontine Sagan. The Flashing Stream in 1943 directed by Muriel Alexander with Sydney Witkin and Minna Schneier. Stage Door by George S. Kaufmann and Edna Ferber. Performed in 1943 by the REPS, directed by Margaret Inglis. Double Door by **** with Taubie Kushlick in 1941. Six characters in search of an author by Pirandello. Performed in 1941 starring André Huguenet and Margaret Inglis, directed by Leontine Sagan. The Late Christopher Bean by Emlyn Williams. Performed in 1942. Amphitryon 38 by Jean Giraudoux, translated into English by S. N. Behrman. Performed in 1942. The Women by Clare Boothe. Performed in 1942. Directed by Leontine Sagan, starring Moira Lister. Anna Christie by Eugene O'Neill. Performed in 1942. The Seagull by Chekhov. Performed in 1945 starring Taubie Kushlick. Our Town by Thornton Wilder. Performed in 1945 starring Enid Grunewald. The Circle by Somerset Maugham. Performed in 1946. Tonight at 8.30 by Noël Coward. Performed in 1946. Play with Fire was performed in 1946 and starred Michael Venables. Siegfried Mynhardt directed Laura for the REPS at The Standard in 1947. George Bernard Shaw's Mrs Warren's profession, directed by Leontine Sagan, and starring Lydia Lindeque was performed in 1947. Gay Gibson Starred in The Silver Cord for the REPS in 1947. Muriel Alexander directed Joan of Lorraine, her last play for the REPS in 1947 at the Wits University Great Hall. The Witch, starring Berdine Grunewald, Johann Nell, Sam Moss and Doreen Mantle, who later became chairman of the Reps, was performed in 1948. The Reps celebrated its twenty-first year of existance with a production of Romeo and Juliet in the Wits University Great Hall and Pretoria Opera House in 1949. It was directed by André van Gyseghem, and starred Leon Gluckman, Eugenie Heyns, Muriel Alexander and Herbert Kretzmer. Sets by Len Grosset and costumes by Louis Jacobson impressed. They offered their usual half-dozen plays during 1950 including T.S. Eliot’s Sweeney Agonistes and Oscar Wilde’s Salome, both directed by Taubie Kushlick. The latter starred Sheila Osrin. The new Reps Theatre opened on the seventh November 1951 in Stiemens Street, Braamfontein. It was an intimate 510 seater designed by Manfred Hermer. Percy Baneshik wrote an ode to the Reps, which was read by Muriel Alexander before the curtains raised on the inaugural production, Much Ado About Nothing. It was directed by Gwen Ffrangçon-Davies and starred Margaret Inglis and Jack Ralphs. Leonard Schach directed Lorca’s Spanish drama The House of Bernarda Alba for the Reps in September 1952. The cast included Muriel Alexander, Molly Seftel and Mary Mitchell. The Reps got Leonard Schach to direct The Madwoman of Chaillot starring Haidee Cassell in 1952 to celebrate the first birthday of their theatre. Leon Gluckman directed André Huguenet in Molière’s Tartuffe for the Reps in 1952. They started their 1953 season with a revival of Rodney Ackland’s The Old Ladies, directed by Minna Schneier. She returned to the Reps rehearsal room to direct Aldous Huxley’s The Gioconda Smile, but was replaced by Shirley Wakefield when she left to give birth to her daughter Cara. Leonard Schach returned to Johannesburg to direct the Reps production of The Young Elizabeth, based on the life of Elizabeth I to mark the coronation of Elizabeth II later that same year. The cast included the aspiring writer Theo Aronson. Minna Millsten directed the Reps production of Noël Coward’s Private Live’s in 1953, starring Marjorie Gordon. They celebrated their twenty-fifth anniversary with a production of Colette’s Gigi in 1953, starring Tessa Laubscher. Anthony Farmer took up his full-time position at the Reps in February of 1954. He directed and designed the set for Agatha Christie’s Witness for the Prosecution. The set was a replica of the Old Bailey. Robert Griffiths and Sadie Festenstein played in this sell out show. The National Theatre staged a celebrity concert in aid of the National Theatre Development Fund at the Reps in 1954. The line-up included André Huguenet, Dawie Couzyn, Margaret Inglis and Taubie Kushlick, and came through the offices of Breytenbach. They turned fully professional in 1954 with Anthony Farmer in charge. The Company of Three’s first production was Third Person and was staged at the Reps in 1955. Farmer brought out English actor John Boulter for the British comedy My Three Angels which was staged at the Reps in 1955. Anthony Farmer secured all the rights for Agatha Christie’s plays and directed Spider's Web which starred Yolande Turnbill for the Reps in 1955. Anthony Farmer staged Bus Stop at the Reps in 1955, starring Brian Bell. Bill Brewer made his first appearance for the Reps in Dear Charles in 1955. Edna Jacobson played the lead in Rose Without a Thorn for the Reps in 1955. The National Theatre took the Reps for their production of Rattigan’s The Winslow Boy starring Brian Proudfoot and Clifford Williams in 1955. Anthony Farmer did a production of Larger than Life for the Reps in 1955. It was based on the novel Theatre by Somerset Maugham, and dramatised by the author with Guy Bolton, starring British star Jessie Matthews. Anthony Farmer directed the thriller, Dead on Nine for the Reps in March 1956, and followed this with The Remarkable Mr Pennypacker. He then left for England, cutting short his contract with the Reps, and was replaced by Anthony Cullen, who only lasted for one production (of T.S. Eliot’s The Confidential Clerk) before set designer Roy Cooke took over the running of the theatre. They would hire directors per play until Hugh Goldie from England joined the company as resident director in 1959. The English actor-director Leslie French came to direct The Tempest for the Reps in 1956, starring David Crichton. The Reps did Terence Rattigan’s The Sleeping Prince, directed by Minna Schneier with Moira Lister and Joss Ackland for their Festival production in 1956. The Reps did Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridges which was directed by Leonard Schach and starred the Irish actor Niall MacGinnis [1] and Durban actor, Louis Burke, making his first stage appearance in Johannesburg in 1957. Minna Schneier directed The Diary of Anne Frank starring Danish actress Bodil Brink and Victor Lucas for the Reps in 1957, after a successful run in Cape Town, where Leonard Schach had directed Felicity Bosman and Joss Ackland. For their two-hundredth production, the Reps presented The House by the Lake, directed by Cecil Williams and starring the West End actress Sonia Dresdel in 1957. Clifford Williams directed Sonia Dresdel in Ugo Betti’s The Queen and the Rebel later that same year. The National Theatre presented Leonard Schach’s production of Summer of the Seventeenth Doll at the Reps at the end of 1957. It was written by the Australian Ray Lawler, and starred Marjorie Gordon. Children’s Theatre put on J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan at the Reps for their Christmas show of 1957. Anthony Farmer directed the play and also designed the set for this visual treat which starred the boyish Evadne Kohler-Baker in the title role. Leon Gluckman returned to the Johannesburg stage in January 1958 in Leonard Schach’s production of the American play Career at the Reps. Leon Gluckman directed Jean Anouilh’s Thieves’ Carnival for the Reps in 1958. Leon Gluckman directed Heather Lloyd-Jones in Romanoff and Juliet at the Reps in 1958. They handed their box-office to Show Service in October 1958. Their production of Hot Summer Night in March 1959, starring John Rutherford, caused quite a controversy. In April 1959 they staged Affairs of State which enjoyed an extended run. Hugh Goldie, the resident director at the Reps, staged Dylan Thomas’ Under Milkwood in 1959. They did The Glass Slipper, in conjunction with Children’s Theatre and the Nationalfor Christmas 1959. It was a musical version of Cinderella, starring Anne Ziegler, Hilda Kriseman and Olive King. The Sound of Murder was the first Reps play for 1960. Breytie Breytenbach concluded an arrangement with the Reps to lease the Alexander as a Johannesburg home for the National Theatre. They invited Albert Ninio to direct John Steinbeck’s Burning Bright, starring Gordon Mulholland and Saul Levitt’s The Andersonville Trial, starring Gordon Mulholland and Joe Stewardson in 1962. Minna Schneier directed Boeing-Boeing for the Reps in 1962. Cecil Williams directed Guilty Party for the Reps in 1962. They staged the thriller The Mousetrap in 1962. Ricky Arden’s production of Neil Simon’s Come Blow Your Horn, was the Reps last production of 1962. It starred Jewish actors Fyvel Zygielbaum and Sarah Sylvia, with Gordon Mulholland, Clive Parnell and Jane Fenn. Roy Cooke invited the husband-and-wife team of Louis Burke and Joan Brickhill to stage their production of Oklahoma! for the Repa at the Alexander in 1963/4. Ricky Arden staged Policy of Murder, starring Estelle Kohler for the Reps in 1963. Margaret Inglis and Robert Langford starred in The Physicists for the Reps in a joint management venture which lost a bundle in 1963. Anthony Newley’s revue Stop the World, I Want to Get Off was staged by Adam Leslie for the Reps in 1964. Albert Ninio directed this production, starring Michael McGovern and Anna Quayle. It formed part of the Johannesburg Festival. They staged the musical Pickwick, direceted by James Gillhouley, starring Paul Whitsun-Jones, at the Alexander in 1965. They also staged The Deputy (also known as The Representative) at the Alexander in 1965. They staged a revival of Ninio’s production of Twelve Angry Men at the Alexander circa 1966. James Gillhouley directed Trap For a Lonely Man, starring Jenny Gratus, and Somerset Maugham’s The Constant Wife at the Alexander in 1966 for the Reps. They staged Forever April at the Alexander, starring Frank Shelley in 1967. They staged Hostile Witness, starring Michael Atkinson and Seidman and Son, starring David Kossof, Simon Kossoff, and Jenny Gratus at the Alexander in 1967. They staged Hugh Goldies production of A Day in the Life Of… starring English actor Harry Towb and his wife Diana Hoddinott at the Alexander in 1967. Albert Ninio directed the Feydeau farce A Flea in Her Ear for the Reps at the Alexander in 1967. It starred Hal Orlandini, Shelagh Holliday, James White and Gordon Mulholland. In collaboration with PACT, they staged Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead in 1967. It was directed by Leonard Schach. They also staged Marcel Pagnol’s Fanny, starring Vanessa Cooke, at the Alexander in 1967. They presented their last season in 1969, starting with Shaw’s Androcles and the Lion, directed by Charles Hickman and starring Danny Kaye at the Alexander. Noël Coward’s Red Peppers was the curtain-raiser. Hickman also directed Coward’s Present Laughter, with Margaret Inglis, Bernard Brown, Jenny Gratus and Gordon Mulholland at the Alexander in 1969 as the final production for the Reps. *

The Reps Theatre

(see The Johannesburg Repetory Players) It opened on the seventh November 1951 in Stiemens Street, Braamfontein. It was an intimate 510 seater designed by Manfred Hermer. Percy Baneshik wrote an ode to the Reps, which was read by Muriel Alexander before the curtains raised on the inaugural production, Much Ado About Nothing, starring Margaret Inglis and Jack Ralphs. Directed by Gwen Ffrangçon-Davies. Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman was the first outside production to be performed at the theatre. Leon Gluckman starred in and co-directed with Jacob Ben-Ami who played Willy Loman, for the Sarah Sylvia Company. The JODS presented a revival of Romberg’s The Desert Song at the Reps in 1952. Leonard Schach directed the Ben Jonson satire Volpone for the National Theatre in 1952. This hit show starred Siegfried Mynhardt, Pieter Geldenhuys, Gerrit Wessels, Edna Jacobson, Frank Wise and Vivienne Drummond. The Reps got Leonard Schach to direct The Madwoman of Chaillot starring Haidee Cassell in 1952 to celebrate the first birthday of their theatre. Anthony Farmer became the resident producer and stage manager of the Reps Theatre from January 1954.


The Alexander Theatre

The Reps Theatre was renamed the Alexander in tribute to its founder on 10 March 1960. The opening play was Hugh Goldie’s production of Shaw’s Caesar and Cleopatra starring Beryl Gordon. Monte Doyle’s Time to Kill was the first production at the Reps for 1961. It starred Heather Lloyd-Jones and British actor Brian Haines. ****

Productions

Bitter Aloes and Miranda, two one-act plays by Madeleine Masson, performed in the Carlton Hotel Ballroom by the Johannesburg Repertory Society on 26 August 1945.


Johannesburg Repertory Players

Performance spaces

Jewish Guild Hall

Library Theatre or Little Theatre

Standard Theatre

Johannesburg Repertory Theatre

Alexander Theatre

Sources

Du Toit 1988;

Gosher, 1988;

Hoffmann, 1980

Kruger,1999;

Tucker, 1997;

For more information

See Repertory Societies See the Johannesburg Repertory Playreading Society; Johannesburg Repertory Players; Repertory Amateur Players Society ; the Alexander Theatre

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