Leonard Schach

Jump to navigation Jump to search

Leonard Lazarus Schach (1918–1996) was a South African theatrical director and producer and entrepreneur.


Born in Cape Town on 10th September 1918, he studied at South African College High School (SACS) and the University of Cape Town (majoring in Psychology, History and Social Anthropology), with a graduate degree in History and Law.

In 1948 he turned to theatre as a career. Up to 1964 he lived in South Africa, working in theatre, before emigrating to Israel in 1965. Just before he was due to fly to South Africa for the launch of his autobiography, The Flag is Flying, he took ill and passed away in Tel Aviv on 20th November 1996.

His contribution to South African theatre

Early on he showed an interest in the theatre by serving as president of the amateur University Dramatic Society at the University of Cape Town in 1939–42.

From 1948 to 1964 he worked in South African theatre, founding his own professional company in 1951 (originally the Cockpit Players, later Leonard Schach Productions). He directed over 200 productions, before emigrating to Israel in 1965.

He occasionally returned to direct work in South Africa, and in 1977 he, René Ahrenson, Cecilia Sonnenberg and Donald Inskip began the production company called The Company of Four.

The South African period 1948-1964

The first professional production he directed was The Heiress, based on Henry James's novel Washington Square, which was staged at the Hofmeyr Theatre in October 1949. He went on to direct numerous productions for the Little Theatre, the Cockpit Players , the Johannesburg REPS, the East Rand Theatre Club, National Theatre Organisation (NTO), Leonard Schach Productions, The Company of Four (1977-1984), and the Performing Arts Councils (e.g. CAPAB and PACT).

Among the most notable of these were Cockpit (1949), The Glass Menagerie (1949), Lady Windermere's Fan (1952), The House of Bernarda Alba (1952), Volpone (1952), The Young Elizabeth (1953), Waiting for Godot (1955), The Diary of Anne Frank (1957), Try for White (1959), The Caretaker (1960), The Night of the Iguana (1962).

He was involved in the Broadway debut of the production of After the Fall and had befriended Miller. He obtained the rights to the play and produced it, with Leon Gluckman, just months after its Broadway premiere, in Wits University Great Hall Johannesburg as part of the Johannesburg Festival and Luxurama Theatre, Cape Town (Cockpit Players) in 1964 for multi-racial audiences. This was the last play directed by Leonard Schach prior to settling in Israel. Schach directed four more productions of After the Fall: In Israel, Brussels, London and again in South Africa in 1981 when it was PACT’s opening production in the Pretoria State Theatre.

His theatre companies

National Theatre Organization

In 1947–48 he undertook a world survey of national subsidized theatre on behalf of the South African Department of Adult Education, contributing to the establishment of the National Theatre Organization (NTO) in 1948.

Schach soon moved into production, creating a company called the Cockpit Players in 1950-. Later this was renamed Leonard Schach Productions (1951-). After his move to Israel, he set up the Company of Four with South African colleagues René Ahrenson, Cecilia Sonnenberg and Donald Inskip (1977-1986) to produce work in the country. Much of his directing work was done for these companies, though he also worked extensively with NTO and later the Performing Arts Councils as well.

Work at the Little Theatre

The Performing Arts Councils

His South African productions

While in the South African Navy, Schach directed Leon Gluckman and Cecil Williams in The Middle Watch at the Little Theatre in 1944.

He staged Tennessee Williams's The Glass Menagerie at the University of Cape Town’s Little Theatre in 1948. The cast included Rosalie van der Gucht and Rosemary Jean Kirkcaldy. He once again directed this play in 1949, during his stint as Acting Controller of the Little Theatre, for the National Theatre starring Anna Romain Hoffman and Nita Economides.

He staged Bridget Boland’s Cockpit at the Little Theatre in 1949, and after its monumental success, formed a professional company, the Cockpit Players, who made Hofmeyr Theatre their home.

He directed The Heiress, a Brian Brooke production for ACT’s touring circuit of 1949.

He directed the Ben Jonson satire Volpone for the National Theatre at the Reps Theatre in 1952, Lorca’s Spanish drama The House of Bernarda Alba for the Johannesburg Reps in September 1952, The Madwoman of Chaillot for the Johannesburg Reps to celebrate the first birthday of their theatre in 1952. He directed his favourite Shakespeare, Twelfth Night two times for the National Theatre in 1953, once in English and once in Afrikaans. He also directed this play for the Theatre Royal du Parc in Brussels in 1953.

He returned to Johannesburg to direct the Johannesburg 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.

Schach’s National Theatre production of The Firstborn in 1954 saw Leon Gluckman in the lead.

Webster Booth and his wife Anne Ziegler starred in Spring Quartet for Leonard Schach in Cape Town in September 1956.

He directed Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot in 1955 in Cape Town and then collaborated with Leon Gluckman and Taubie Kushlick as co-producers to stage it once again, this time at the Technical College Hall in 1956, starring Alec Bell, Gerrit Wessels and Gavin Haughton. Joss Ackland played leads for Leonard Schach’s Cockpit Players before returning to England.

He directed Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge for the Reps starring the Irish actor Niall MacGinnis and Durban actor, Louis Burke, making his first stage appearance in Johannesburg in 1957, The Diary of Anne Frank in Cape Town in 1957.

The National Theatre presented his production of Summer of the Seventeenth Doll at the Johannesburg Reps at the end of 1957. It was written by the Australian Ray Lawler, and starred Marjorie Gordon.

Leon Gluckman returned to the Johannesburg stage in January 1958 in Schach’s production of the American play, Career, at the Reps.

Schach’s Cockpit Players embarked on a lengthy Johannesburg run of four of their recent Cape Town successes in 1959. The first production was Long Day's Journey into Night starring Leon Gluckman. Next, Basil Warner’s Try for White opened at the Pretoria Opera House before moving to the Intimate Theatre for the remainder of their highly successful run. Leon Gluckman and John McKelvey went straight into Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee’s prizewinning play Inherit the Wind, for which Leonard hired the Brooke Theatre. The fourth Cockpit Players production was Thornton Wilder’s lively period-New York comedy, The Matchmaker. This enduring show became the musical Hello, Dolly!.

David Beattie made his final appearance for Leonard’s satirical revue, Beyond the Fringe.

He was a guest director at The Barn Theatre in the 1960’s.

His production of A Majority of One starring Sarah Sylvia and Frank Wise opened in January 1960. He directed Brendan Behan’s play The Hostage which was staged at the Intimate Theatre in 1960. Yet the YMCA committee for the Intimate refused permission to stage his Lock Up Your Daughters.

His production of The Aspern Papers ran at the Playhouse (Cape Town) after their season at the Hofmeyr Theatre in 1960. Michael Redgrave’s adaptation of this Henry James story saw the British actress Flora Robson in the lead opposite Canadian actor Robert Beatty.

In December 1960 Schach announced he had signed a two-year lease with the Playhouse in Cape Town. His Cockpit Players maintained a high standard at the Playhouse in 1961 with Harold Pinter’s The Caretaker with Siegfried Mynhardt, Michael McGovern and Nigel Hawthorne, and Paddy Chayefsky’s prizewinning The Tenth Man, starring the same actors.

His Cockpit Players did William Gibson’s The Miracle Worker at the Playhouse in 1961, starring Reinet Maasdorp and Fiona Fraser.

His musical revue called Something New, with John Boulter and British comedienne Beryl Reid opened in Cape Town in December 1961, before going to Johannesburg early in 1962.

He directed Harold Pinter’s The Birthday Party, followed by Tennessee Williams's The Night of the Iguana which was staged at the Playhouse by the Cockpit Players in 1962. In his company of actors for these plays were Siegfried Mynhardt, Michael McGovern, Margaret Inglis, Marjorie Gordon, Diane Wilson and Kerry Jordan.

He left the country after his 1964 production of After the Fall because of restrictions placed on his work by the apartheid system. He settled in Israel, but returned frequently as a guest director. He came back to direct Shaw’s Heartbreak House for PACT at the Alexander Theatre in 1967, Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead for a Johannesburg Reps-PACT collaboration production in 1967, Aleksei Arbuzov’s The Promise, A Month in the Country, for PACT at the Alexander Theatre in 1969, Lang Dagreis na die Nag in 1970.

PACT presented two of his productions in 1971: the Paul Zindel play The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-moon Marigolds, starring Marjorie Gordon and Janice Honeyman; and In the Case of J. Robert Oppenheimer starring John Hayter.

He directed Kennedy's Children for The Company (1975), the Pieter Toerien production of Peter Shaffer’s Equus (1975), Comedians at The Market Theatre in December 1976. His production of Comedians was one of the opening productions in the Market Theatre. It attracted a lot of attention from the censorship board.

He subsequently directed a number of other plays for various managements in South Africa. His production of an Afrikaans version of The Diary of Anne Frank with Elise Hibbert was staged by PACT at the Alexander Theatre in 1977. He directed Die Wonderwerk (1978), Golda (1978), 'n Maand op die Platteland (1979), Da (1979), Macbeth (1980), The Royal Hunt of the Sun (1981), The Dresser (1980). It was also staged at the Market Theatre in 1982 before enjoying a successful run in Israel.

He directed 84 Charing Cross Road at the Market Theatre in April 1982, Beecham (1984), A Walk in the Woods (1989), A Walk in the Woods (1990).

His Baxter Theatre production of Beecham was staged at the Civic’s Youth Theatre in Johannesburg in 1993.

In 1994 Yours Anne opened in Cape Town. This was to be Leonard's last new production in South Africa before his death.

The Israeli period 1965-1996

He moved to Israel in 1965 where he directed many productions for the Cameri Theatre in Tel Aviv. In addition he directed for Habimah, the Haifa Municipal Theater, Zavit, Bimot, Giora Godick Productions, the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra and the Israel Chamber Ensemble Orchestra.

He also directed plays and operas in England, the United States, Italy, and Belgium, and made the film Cry in the Wind in Greece.

Other activities

Leonard organised a three-month tour where theatre enthusiasts could view the famous theatres, opera houses and concert halls of Britain and Europe in 1951.

He was the South African representative of the International Theatre Institure (ITI).

He attended the first meeting of the South African Association of Theatrical Managements, established early 1956.

On occasion acted as adjudicator for the FATSSA Play Festival.

Writings by and about Schach

An early biography by Donald Inskip (Stage by Stage: The Leonard Schach Story. Cape Town: Howard Timmins, 1977) provides much early material, while his own autobiography (The Flag is Flying, published by Human and Rousseau, 1996) is a fact filled survey of the history of twentieth century South African theatre from a subjective, personal perspective.

Awards and honours

Schach was the recipient of many awards, including the 1960 Cape Tercentenarian Award of Merit (1960), the Queen of England's Coronation Medal for services to the English theatre (1953), the Drama Critics of Brussels award (for After the Fall, 1966), Israel's David's Harp award for best director of the year (Birthday Party, 1968), and the Breytenbach Award of South Africa for best director of the year for his production of Equus (1976). He has also been granted the Freedom of the City of Cape Town for his theatrical activity.

In 1989 he received the Fleur due Cap Lifetime Achievement Award for his contribution to the industry.

He founded the The Leonard Schach Fund for Theatre Productions - South Africa and Israel.


Louis Isaac Rabinowitz "Schach, Leonard Lazarus" in Encyclopaedia Judaica (© 2008 The Gale Group)[1]

Inskip, Donald P., 1977.

Schach, 1996.

Tucker, 1997.

Virtual Library [2]

Return to

Return to ESAT Personalities S

Return to South African Theatre Personalities

Return to Main Page