Little Theatre

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The term Little Theatre is found as the name for a specific type of theatre venue as well as the specific name for a particular venue (or even a company using such a venue).

In Afrikaans term for Little Theatre is Kleinteater.


As a general concept

As name of company or venue

Little Theatre, Cape Town

A multi-purpose venue built by the University of Cape Town on the Hiddingh Campus in Orange Street, Cape Town, in a converted chemistry laboratory. It originally opened in 1931, but was then reconfigured and rebuilt and opened in 1934.

(Also referred to as the "UCT Little Theatre" or simply as "The Little", and Die Kleinteater in Afrikaans).

The Little Theatre Company

Referred to as the Little Theatre Players

The professional productions

A multi-purpose venue built by the University of Cape Town on the Hiddingh Campus in Orange Street, Cape Town at the urging of Prof. William Henry Bell, with the help of Prof Bohle and messrs Roding and Hawkins (clerk of works), to house drama and opera productions. A converted chemistry laboratory, it was initially seen as an experimental training venue and had a stage as large as the auditorium, seating only 194 people.

Inaugurated on 18th of August 1931 with a production of Anton Chekov’s The Seagull (directed by W.A Sewell) * The first Opera held at the Little Theatre was Cimarosa’s Il matrimonio segreto ("The Secret Marriage") in 1933 with Guiseppe Paganelli as producer. After a very successful run of Bernard Shaw’s The Apple Cart (premiered on 15 March 1933), the local press canvassed for the rebuilding of the auditorium. The University Council authorised the modifications and by May 1934 it was approaching completion.

The people responsible for making these alterations possible were, Prof. W.H. Bell (General Director 1931-1934), Mr. J.E.H. Duckworth (Assistant Director and lighting specialist), Mr. Brian Mansergh/Mansbergh?* (Designer and Architect) and Prof. A.E. Snape (construction advisor).

The auditorium plan was based on the so-called continental seating plan, with continuous rows with only side isles, giving spectators an uninterrupted view of the whole stage. It now seated 300. The refurbished theatre was opened with Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro. In order to promote theatre in Cape Town, Bell and Duckworth now made the theatre available to any dramatic society in the city free of charge, though all proceeds went to the theatre. Thus, for example, it became the ‘home’ of the Cape Town Repertory Theatre Society between 1934 and 1948, during which time they did 50 productions.

The theatre continued to share its professional technical staff with this company even after they left. (The Kaapstadse Afrikaanse Toneelvereniging (KAT) also used to stage one production per year there during the 1940s.) In October 1934 a program made up of three works all with music by Bell was performed in affection to the retiring director of the Little Theatre and College of Music. He was replaced as director by Prof Donald Inskip.

At this stage the University Council introduced a system of seat booking utilizing Messrs. Darters Music Store as booking agents. Other changes saw the theatre hiring ushers employed by the City Hall on demand of Sir Jock **, who was opposed to using students.

In 1936 presentations of scenes from plays directed by students as part of their basic training were incorporated in the theatre’s events calendar. In 1938 The Cape Town City Council made a decision to build a civic theatre to the loyal Repertory Theatre’s delight, but with the outbreak of war in 1939, the 40,000 Pounds earmarked for the project was allocated to war charities instead and the civic theatre had to wait until the late 1940s.

With André Van Gyseghem's production of Bernard Shaw’s Man and Superman in 1937, the Little Theatre entered a new era of professionalism. The next milestone was Clemence Dane’s Wild Decembers, produced by Rollo Gamble, who was moving towards creating a forum for professional theatre practitioners called The Theatre Club, launching the idea with his production of Pirandello's Six characters in search of an author.

The Theatre Club broke up soon after Gamble’s return to England in 1938*?. In 1938 Donald Inskip went on a visit to Europe and convinced Leontine Sagan to undertake another ‘residency’ at the Little Theatre. Here she directed Emlyn Williams's The Corn is Green, as well as Zoe AkinsOld Maid with Ruth Peffers’ drama students.

The same month as Britain entered the Second World War, a fire broke out in the Little Theatre causing minor damage to the kitchen, but luckily leaving the theatre unharmed. With the invasion of Paris in 1940 the production of Jean Giraudoux’s Amphitryon again directed again by Sagan at the Little Theatre, played to luke warm reception of the press and audiences.

Noel Coward also visited the Little Theatre in the war years and gave a performance to the service men and woman, accompanied by Norman Hackforth. Hackforth stayed on in Cape Town to appear together with Donald Inskip in René Ahrenson’s production of Rebecca (194*).

With the monumental production of Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie directed by Leonard Schach in 195* the playhouse was still an amateur space. Despite its success and full houses the plays run was cut short due to the cast’s other obligations. With Inskip’s return from the U.K. in 1950 Leonards Shach who was left as general director of the theatre had lead to a closer link between the Department and the Faculty of Arts.

This lead to a break with the College of Music. A really tight-knit drama school and production unit was now firmly established. Towards mid 1950s actors from the Flemish National Theatre in Antwerp were on tour in what was still the Belgian Congo and their tour was to be extended to South Africa. The group was under the leadership of Fred Engelen and his wife Tine Balder. Engelen and his wife returned in 1953 with another group of Flemish actors, laying the foundation for his subsequent appointment as Professor in Drama at Stellenbosch University.

In 1952 with the 300 year celebration of Jan Van Riebeeck's arrival the Little Theatre put on Ivor Jones's The Ball at the Castle in an open air presentation at The Castle in Cape Town. The same year the Little Theatre celebrated its twenty-first birthday and the University Council authorized the printing of a special commemorative brochure called “Coming of Age” in which due tribute was paid to the people and players who had collaborated in upwards of 300 productions since the theatre’s beginnings.

For these celebrations Leonard Schach put on Lady Windermere’s Fan, which opened on August 23rd and was followed a month later by Rosalie’s production of AeschylusOresteia. In 19.. the Little Theatre’s workshops caught fire for a second time and most of the wardrobe and workshop was destroyed. The costumes for Doreen Graves’ rendition of Gogol’s, Government Inspector which was to be staged in a couple of days was located in the sewing room and in this way was saved from the massive destruction of the fire.

The stage itself was not harmed and despite the fierce smell burning the performance of General Inspector went forth as scheduled. Over 21 years of costumes collected were destroyed, workshop gear and tools reduced to ashes and spaces used for teaching or as offices were annihilated. On account of the fire the opportunity to reconstruct the drama school was taken. The workshop roof was raised, making painting easier. Teaching studio’s were made more spacious and a proper broadcasting training set-up was constructed. With Fred Engelen’s production of D.F. Malherbe’s version of Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, Mavis Taylor’s costume designs were used in follow up productions in Antwerp, Belgium where foreign ties and standards with Europe were generated bringing the Little Theatre quite close to the main currents of European Theatre.

Towards the end of 1964 Professor Corey of Shreveport University in Louisiana arrived in Cape Town with his traveling student company playing The Book of Job. At the same time Robert Mohr put on a production called J.B. which also dealt with Job. Inskip gave Corey a copy of Flora Stohr’s Behind the Yellow Door and he arranged that Robert Mohr should go to the University of Shreveport, Louisiana to produce it. This was done in 1966 with Corey’s students.

In 1964 the 400th Anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth was celebrated and for this occasion the British Council helped the Little Theatre to bring the famous English theatrical director, producer and manager Norman Marshall [1] to direct Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. The 60s saw a kaleidoscopic picture at the Little Theatre. Mavis Taylor did Little Malcolm and his struggle against the Eunuchs in 1967 and Ibsen’s Peer Gynt in 1968. Robert Mohr did Seppuku in 1967 and 1968.

In 1965 Keith Anderson and Roy Sargeant put on a successful pantomime of Aladdin with Mavis Taylor herself appearing on stage as the Empress of China. The Seventies saw equally successful productions launched at the Little Theatre. Alec Bell in Brecht’s Schweik in the Second World War as Schweik was incredibly successful.

Percy Sieff in Herman Charles Bosman’s one hander, Willem Prinsloo’s Peach Brandy. Mavis Taylor workshopped a play O what a lovely war with the students of the Speech and Drama Department.

Perhaps the most significant new notes struck in the 1970s were by Tessa Marwick and Gay Morris who directed respectively Wedekind’s Spring Awakening and the stage version of Pride of Miss Jean Brodie.

Two more productions performed in the seventies that played to critical acclaim was Ann Jellicoe’s The Knack, directed by Mavis Taylor staring the talents of Denis Bettesworth, Peter Krummeck, Bill Flynn and Anelise Weiiland. Secondly was Aubrey Berg’s staging of Feydeau’s immortal Flea in her ear. **** The Little Theatre: In Cape Town. While in the South African Navy, Leonard Schach directed Leon Gluckman and Cecil Williams in The Middle Watch at the Little Theatre in 1944.

Professor Donald Inskip went from the Little Theatre to the National Theatre Organization. The Glass Menagerie by Tennesse Williams was staged here by Leonard Schach in 1948. Cast included Rosalie van der Gucht and Rosemary Kirkcaldy. Bridget Boland’s Cockpit was staged here in 1949. It was directed by Leonard Schach. Leonard Schach directed Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot here in 1955, starring [[Alec Bell, Gerrit Wessels and Gavin Haughton. ****

Student productions and training


Inskip, 1972.

Tucker, 1997.

[FdV, TH]

Little Theatre, Durban

Situated in Acutt Street. *** Newly-renovated in 2001?*, used for a performance of Kessie Govender's Working Class Hero , in association with The Playhouse Company.

Little Theatres in Johannesburg

The name Little Theatre has been used many times in Johannesburg over the years to refer to a number of different venues.


The Little Theatre/ Die Kleinteater or The Library Theatre

Its official name was apparently the Little Theatre (or "Kleinteater"), but it became known as the Library Theatre (or Biblioteekteater in Afrikaans) since it was incorporated into the new Library-complex completed 1936. Used by the Johannesburg Repertory Society (Johannesburg REPS) as its venue from 1936 until 1941, and again on a part-time basis between 1945 and 1950?*. It is described by Percy Tucker as a “miserable apology for a theatre”, but it nevertheless provided a venue where work could be done in a time when venues were scarce. Shows seen there include ** The Library Theatre. Theatre situated in the Johannesburg Public Library. Referred to by Percy Tucker as a miserable apology for a theatre. (Tucker, 1997: 17) Love on the Dole was directed by Taubie Kushlick in 1946 and brought here after an extended run in Benoni. Jean Cocteau’s The Eagle Has Two Heads was performed here in 1949 starring Taubie Kushlick and Leon Gluckman, with Percy Tucker working backstage. Leon Gluckman staged the revue Xmas Box at the Library towards the end of 1949. Herbert Kretzmer composed five of the songs and cast included Marjorie Gordon and Johann Nell. Taubie Kushlick produced and directed Graham Greene’s play, The Living Room, at the Library starring Anne McMenamin in 1955. Margaret Inglis produced and co-starred in Love in Idleness with John Hussey at the Library in 1955. JAATS secured the rights to premiere the poet and playwright Uys Krige’s Die Goue Ring for their Festival production at the Library in 1956. The National Theatre did Shaw’s Candida for their Festival production at the Library in 1956 starring Margaret Inglis in the title role. Their Afrikaans arm staged Dirk Opperman’s Periandros van Korinthe, directed by Anna Neethling-Pohl. and a translation of Ferenc Molnar’s The Play’s the Thing (Gekonkel in die Nag), also directed by Neethling-Pohl, and also staged here for the Festival. Children’s Theatre staged Mango Leaf Magic for young audiences as their Festival production at the Library in 1956. Taubie Kushlick’s 1956 Christmans show, Listen to the Wind, was a children’s show for all ages. Starring Joyce Grant, Elizabeth Meyer, Brian Proudfoot, June Hern, Maureen Adair and Philip Birkinshaw, with sets by Pamela Lewis and staged at the Library Theatre. Cecil Williams’ production of The Strong Are Lonely was staged here in June 1957. The Company of Three presented the hard-hitting American drama, A Hatful of Rain, with Stuart Brown directing Marjorie Gordon, Ivan Berold and Jenny Gratus at the Library in 1957. Cecil Williams failed to draw audiences with Jean-Paul Sartre’s double bill, The Vicious Circle and The Respectable Prostitute at the Library in 1957. An anonymous author, later revealed to be the Rand Daily Mail theatre critic Lewis Sowden, wrote The Kimberley Train, which exposed the racist attitude of South African society. It was directed by Cecil Williams, and staged at the Library in 1958. Ruth Oppenheim directed German playwright Frank Wedekind’s Spring Awakening at the Library in 1960. She also directed A State of Innocence, written by Clive Hirschhorn and starring Marjorie Gordon and Johann Nell at the Library in 1960. Margaret Inglis and Robert Langford founded a new company circa 1962. Their first production was a revival of Gaslight at the Library in 1962. In July 1965 Children’s Theatre staged James Ambrose Brown’s The Three Wishes at the Library Theatre which proved to be their last production. Ian Bernhardt’s production of Athol Fugard’s Hello and Goodbye, starring Fugard and Molly Seftel was staged at the Library in 1965. The Gilbert and Sullivan spoof called An Evening with Goldberg and Solomon was staged here in December 1967. **** (Tucker, 1997; Du Toit, 1988) [TH, JH]

The Little Theatre, Corner House building

In the Corner House building. It opened in November 1973 with the comedy Till Bed Do Us Part by Louis Ife. It starred and was presented by Louis and Barbara Kinghorn under direction of Rex Garner. Robert Kirby’s The Dot-Dash Show with Robert and Terry Lester was staged here in 1975. Later leased by Toerien-Firth and renamed Barnato Theatre circa 1976 and used by them. **** (Tucker, 1997)

The Little Theatre, Carlton Centre

Situated in the Carlton Centre in Marshall Street. It opened in December 1983. Delia Sainsbury and Keith Galloway staged a musical for children called Wooglebugs, Witches and Wonderful Things in 1983. **** (Tucker, 1997)

The Little Theatre, Mutual Square, Rosebank

It was run by Delia Sainsbury and Keith Galloway and opened in February 1987 with Terrence Shank’s production of Sugar and Spice starring Bess Finney. It was renamed the Waybury for a short period circa 1991. Bess Finney’s production of Our Gracie was staged here in 1991. It closed in 1996. **** (Tucker, 1997)

The Little Theatre, Port Elizabeth or PEMADS Little Theatre

The Port Elizabeth Musical and Dramatic Society was founded in the basement of the Port Elizabeth City Hall in October 1945, when a group of musical theatre enthusiasts decided to present shows away from the Savoy operettas. The name quickly became abbreviated to PEMADS and has been known as such ever since.

Their first production was Peter Blackmore’s The Blue Goose.

The Little Theatre, originally known as the Loubser Hall, was opened on April 17, 1901, and formed part of the Athenaeum Club. It was named after Matthew Michael Loubser, who was born in the Cape on July 25, 1846. He "fathered" the Athenaem Club, which in its day was was a great centre of social life, sport and entertainment. He was actively involved with the Gymnastic Club, Eastern Province Cricket Union, Port Elizabeth Amateur Athletic and Cycling Club and the Crusaders Football Club. Loubser was also president of the Port Elizabeth Agricultural Society. He died in Oberhof, Germany, on June 29, 1914.

Harold Davidson was instrumental in obtaining the use of this hall for rehearsal purposes. After PEMADS members and directors got used to their new home, productions began.

Conditions were primitive. Back-stage storage space was non-existent, lighting was barely adequate, and if you had a large cast, conditions became chaotic.

After the facilities were improved the new dressing rooms were considered "no fun" as the team feeling of doing all that costume changing with just a sheet on a line separating the boys from the girls, was gone.

Also referred to as the Pemads Little Theatre, after the Port Elizabeth Musical and Dramatic Society (PEMADS), the society that built and owns it.

Contains the Noel Morgan Auditorium.

Among the other local groups using it are the Port Elizabeth Afrikaanse Amateur Toneelvereniging (PEAAT).

Die Kleinteater , Pretoria


The idea for this venue is probably linked to the story of Ons Teatertjie, a venue conceived as a home for the Ons Teatertjie Toneelgroep (later known as Volksteater) in 1937 and for which the first plans were drawn up in 1938 by E Schwartz. Unfortunately the start of the war in 1939 meant that the plans were aborted, even though the idea had been supported by the government.

Then in March 1940, Mrs. Norah McCullough approached the architect Norman Eaton to design a children's arts centre in the South African capital. Construction began in 1941. Disagreements over the function and dimensions of the building delayed completion until 1946. During this time, Mr. Le Roux Smith Le Roux was appointed director of the new center in 1943, and he proceeded to develop a comprehensive theatre development program. In 1957, the theatre project was placed under the jurisdiction of the Teacher Training College in Pretoria, but due to a lack of funds and other issues, completion was onlu completed in 1961.

The venue was then used by local amateur groups, notably Volksteater.

That year, the finished building was officially opened by a Dr. Jordaan, deacon of the College, to whom the theatre was handed over and put into use under the name KleinteaterLittle Theatre/Arts Center. In 1993, Maree & Els Architects were approved to plan a renovation, which was completed in August 1994.

In 1957, the theatre was placed under the jurisdiction of the Teacher Training College in Pretoria. Due to a lack of funds and other political issues, completion awaited 1961. That year, the finished building was officially opened by a Dr. Jordaan, deacon of the College, to whom the theatre was handed over and put into use under the name Little Theatre/Arts Center. In 1993, Maree & Els Architects were approved to plan a renovation, which was completed in August 1994.

In 1995, UNISA became the Theatre's owner. It was declared a provincial heritage site in 2004 and renamed the Little Theatre Unisa. Further interior renovation was conducted under the guidance of the South African Heritage Resources Agency.

but later Die Kleinteater ("The Little Theatre") was built for Volksteater (the former Ons Teatertjie Toneelgroep) in 19**.

Owned by the Transvaal Education Department, the venue was later also used by the students of the Pretoria Educational Training College, and hosted the finals of the annual Administrator’s Cup Competition for many years. Also used as one of the venues for the annual playwriting incentive, the ATKV Kampustoneel Festival, in the 1980s.

Owned by the Transvaal Education Department, the venue known as Die Kleinteater ("the Little Theatre") was managed by the Pretoria Educational Training College, and also used by the students of the college for their work and other performances and theatrical events, inter alia hosting the finals of the annual Administrator’s Cup Competition for many years and serving as one of the venues for the annual playwriting incentive, the ATKV Kampustoneel Festival, in the 1980s.

In 1995, UNISA became the Theatre's owner. It was declared a provincial heritage site in 2004 and renamed the Little Theatre Unisa. Further interior renovation was conducted under the guidance of the South African Heritage Resources Agency.


Gosher, 1988

Port Elizabeth: A Social Chronicle to the End of 1945 by Margaret Harradine. Published by E H Walton Packaging (Pty) Ltd., Port Elizabeth. Undated but known to have been printed in 1997.

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