The Bennees

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The Bennees is the name used by local sources to refer to the theatrical couple, W.J.S. Bennee and Fanny Raynor (Mrs Bennee) when they were touring the British colonies in the 1860s-1870s.

W.J.S. Bennee (fl 1860s-1870s)

He was a British Shakespearean actor.

Married to, and business partner of, the actress Fanny Raynor (Mrs Bennee).

Fanny Raynor (fl 1860s-1870s)

She was a young British actress.

Married to, and business partner of W.J.S. Bennee, she was either billed as "Miss Fanny Raynor", or "Mrs Bennee"

As an actress she never seemed quite to live up to the publicity dispersed by the company in the colonies. In Australia for example, the critic of The Advocate (10 August, 1872) said: "Miss Jaynor lacks animation, not possessing, as it seemed to us, the nervous character which is indispensable to a lady undertaking leading parts", a sentiment echoeing that of D.C. Boonzaier (1923) in Cape Town, South Africa.

The Bennees in South Africa

Mr Bennee and Mrs Bennee arrived in Cape Town in September 1868 as part of a new company of performers that J.H. le Roy had engaged in England to form part of the Le Roy and Duret company. There they participated in a season of plays for that company in the Theatre Royal in Harrington Street, Cape Town, where the company played pieces a number of Shakespearian plays (Hamlet, Othello and Romeo and Juliet), plus The Lady of Lyons (Bulwer-Lytton), Uncle Tom's Cabin (Beecher Stowe/Hermann), Guy Mannering (Terry), etc. This season ended abruptly when the theatre burnt down at the start of 1868. In this conflagration the Bennees lost a large part of their wardrobe, as they had stored their costumes in baskets in the theatre.

Having broken rather acrimoniously with Sefton Parry, the couple now took off on their own with a scratch company (referred to as The Bennees by Bosman), undertaking a 15 month tour of the Eastern Cape and the Orange Free State during the course of 1868-69, performing with the aid of local amateurs wherever they appeared. They ended back in Cape Town, where they presented a farewell benefit in Cape Town under the auspices of the Governor and the Freemasons in on 31 May, 1869. The bill consisted of Hamlet (Shakespeare), Personation or Fairly Taken In (Dieulafoy/Decamp) and How to Win a Widow (Allingham?).

They then left the Cape for the colonies in the East, for example visiting India and Australia . There they once more performed leading roles such as that of "Claude Melnotte" and "Pauline" in The Lady of Lyons (Bulwer-Lytton), "Hamlet" and "Ophelia" in Hamlet (Shakespeare) and "Petruchio" and "Katherine" in The Taming of the Shrew (Shakespeare) - none of these to great success, at least not in Melbourne it would appear.


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 1932. (Reprinted in Bosman 1980: pp. 374-439.)

F.C.L. Bosman, 1980. Drama en Toneel in Suid-Afrika, Deel II, 1856-1916. Pretoria: J.L. van Schaik: pp.201-2, 232-243, 294, 299.

"Public Amusements", The Advocate, Melbourne, Victoria: 10 Aug 1872 (Page 15), Trove[1]

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