Sefton Parry and Company

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On November 28, 1861, a theatre opened in the store of the Port Elizabeth Boating Company in Commerce Street. The Port Elizabeth Boating Company was formed with Daniel Phillips as Managing Director in 1841. The first professional acting company to visit Port Elizabeth was an English company under Sefton Parry. The company started work immediately after their arrival by steamer. It is unknown if the Port Elizabeth Boating Company storeroom was ever used again for another production because, in June 1862, Sefton Parry became the manager of the New Theatre in Whites Road.

South African Performance History

The first show at the Boating Company's store-cum-theatre was Henry Thornton Craven's two-act drama, The Post Boy. This was followed by “the celebrated farce” The Bonnie Fishwife by Charles Selby. These productions created great interest in theatre and a family ticket for four people cost £10/10/0.

As news of the success of the performances spread, the residents of Port Elizabeth recognised the need for a proper theatre and funds were collected for the New Theatre. The Sefton Parry Company had a very successful three months season which consisted of 12 different performances.

On June 17, 1862, Sefton Parry, now the manager of the New Theatre, produced James Sheridan Knowles's “magnificent” five-act play, The Hunchback. Knowles was an Irish actor and dramatist who made his first appearance when he played Hamlet at the Crow Theatre in Dublin. His best-known play was The Hunchback which was staged for the first time at Covent Garden either in 1820 or 1832 (sources vary). Knowles was praised for his role as Master Walter in the production. During his lifetime he wrote 22 plays, five novels or short stories and three collections of poetry. The production in Port Elizabeth was described as being staged with “Beautiful New Scenery by Mr Cooper” and “Elegant Elizabethan Costumes”. After The Hunchback, Miss Lizzie Powell danced the celebrated Varsovienne, a slow, graceful dance in ¾ time with an accented downbeat in alternate measures. The dance originated circa 1850 in Warsaw, Poland. The name means 'from Warsaw'. The dance was popular in 19th-century. The unique armhold – also known as the promenade hold – is used in other dance styles such as the American square dance and some ballroom dances. The dance was followed by the “Screaming Farce” of A Kiss in the Dark.


Eastern Province Herald, November 29, 1861.

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