Simon's Town Theatre

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The Simon's Town Theatre was a short-lived theatre venue erected in the naval town of Simon's Town in 1856 for the presentation of marine performances.

The theatre and the first performances were the initiative of the crew members of the H.M.S. Penelope, under the command of Sir William Wiseman, and according to contemporary descriptions, the venue was a functionally equipped wooden building near the beach, large enough to seat 400 audience members. A description of the theatre in the Cape Argus of 10 July, 1858 (cited by Bosman, 1980: p163), notes that it had separate entrances, and tasteful interior decorations. For example the drop curtain depicted Simon's Town and its environs, with the projected dry dock a prominent feature. The article goes on to say: "Either side of the stage are full-length allegorical figures, and the walls were hung with paintings , the work of, we believe, P.D. Martin Esq. and Dr Shea. Chandeliers, bristling with bayonets and wreathed in evergreens lighted up the faces of the happy assembly."

The theatre was officially opened on 27 December, 1856, at 8 the evening, after "a sumptuous repast and dancing" on board the Penelope, but the general public were admitted to the opening production, which consisted of performances of Talfourd's Travestie of Macbeth and The Wandering Minstrel (Mayhew), interspersed with a hornpipe dance, a rendition of The Rat-catcher's Daughter, sung by Mr Forrest, music supplied by the ship's orchestra. Fittingly: "The National Anthem, of course, closed the performance."

Unfortunately it appears that the theatre had a short life, for early in 1857 it is announced that some disagreements about the arrangements regarding the theatre had ledb Sir William Wiseman to "denude it of all the fittings he so kindly lent for the occasion". And the theatre in never referred to again.


Sources

F.C.L. Bosman, 1980. Drama en Toneel in Suid-Afrika, Deel II, 1856-1916. Pretoria: J.L. van Schaik: pp.163-4.

Jill Fletcher. 1994. The Story of Theatre in South Africa: A Guide to its History from 1780-1930. Cape Town: Vlaeberg.

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