Dramatic Club

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The Y.M.I. Dramatic Club, Cape Town

Also referred to as Young Men's Institute and Club Dramatic Company, it was an offshoot of the cultural activities of the Young Men's Institute (Y.M.I.) in Cape Town, and in particular its Christy's style company called the Young Men’s Institute Amateur Christy’s (1867-1870). In the years 1870-71 the institute specifically boasted a Young Men's Institute and Club Dramatic Company, led by Thomas Brazier, which was for a while the premier company in the city. They performed at the Institute Assembly Hall, with Brazier as actor and "stage director".

For more on the make-up and activities of this company/club, see the entry on the Young Men’s Institute

The Dramatic Club, Grahamstown

Amateur dramatic society founded in 1864. (See Du Toit, 1988) [JH]

The Dramatic Club, King William’s Town

Founded in 1862, performed at the Prince Alfred Theatre. They resented the rival military performers (Garrison Players), accusing them of “puffing” (and being called “muffs” in retaliation). (Fletcher, 1994) [TH]

The Dramatic Club, Port Elizabeth

According to Jill Fletcher (1994, pp.79-81) the first manifestation of what is later referred to as the Port Elizabeth Dramatic Club appears to have been a Port Elizabeth Dramatic Society , formed in the early 1840s, most probably performing in various found venues, including The Lyceum, a wood and iron store they had fitted up as performance venue with "a primitive stage and quaint scenery". F.C.L. Bosman (1928, pp. 508-9) adds that on the 26 August 1853 a "new Theatre" that had been built by subscription opened in Port Elizabeth, opening with a production of She Stoops to Conquer (Goldsmith) and Did You Ever Send Your Mother to Camberwell? (Coyne) - probably an erroneous reference to Did You Ever Send Your Wife to Camberwell? by Coyne.

The society was temporarily dissolved in 1858.

Fletcher then continues to introduce the new name when she says (pp.93-4) that some members of what she refers to as a "re-constituted Dramatic Club" reappeared in 1862. It is uncertain whether this is a reference to the defunct Port Elizabeth Dramatic Society or another (rival?) society. According to her some members of the former society joined forces in 1862 and raised enough money to build an own new theatre in White’s Road, one Fletcher now refers to as the White's Road Theatre. However, Margaret Harradine (1995) suggests that the theatre Fletcher mentions is actually a reference to a venue called the New Theatre, situated in Whites Road (and also known as the Theatre Royal or The Barn, Barn Theatre or The Old Barn), and in fact constructed by the Port Elizabeth Dramatic Company, not a "Dramatic Club" of "Dramatic Society". The theatre was initially leased to Sefton Parry for a period of three months and opened with a performance of Grist to the Mill (Planché) on 2 June 1862.

More certain is that F.C.L. Bosman (1980, p. 138) has a pertinent reference to the existence of a "P.E. Dramatic Club" (or "Port Elizabeth Dramatic Club "in Port Elizabeth circa 1861-1864 (the period when Sefton Parry and Clara Tellett both visited the coastal city with their performers and used the facilities and performers of the local organizations.) Like Bosman, P.J. du Toit (1988: p. 30) writes specifically of a Port Elizabeth Dramatic Club active as an amateur dramatic society in the early 1860s, a time when Port Elizabeth was considered to be the second most important centre for theatre in South Africa. However, like Fletcher, he suggests that the Club may have been a revival (and renaming) of the Port Elizabeth Dramatic Society

The Club was led by a "most enterprising and assiduous manager, himself a manager of no mean repute" (Bosman, 1980: p.296 suggests it may have been Mr St George, an amateur formerly from Cape Town). After the success of Sefton Parry's occupation of the theatre and at the height of its active life (between 1863 and 1866), the club began staging performances fortnightly, often doing so in partnership with messrs B. Howard and A.S. Cooper (the scenic designer and painter), formerly of the Sefton Parry company, Mrs Cooper now emerging as costumière of the company. Other professionals they partnered with include Sefton Parry, Samuel Wolfe and W.H. Parkes, who rented their theatre for his own shows.

Among the works done by the club (and its collaborators), sometimes for charity and fund-raising purposes (e.g. for a new cricket pavilion), were Still Waters Run Deep (Taylor), That Affair at Finchley (Coyne), Our Volunteers (a new ballet created and performed by Mrs Cooper, with scenery, "expressly painted and devised by Mr R.S. Cooper") and the The Lady of Lyons by Bulwer-Lytton or Byron) possibly even the opera The Rose of Castile (Balfe, Harris and Falconer).

By 1866 it appears the club had begun to lose impetus and put the theatre up for sale, though in the face of public protest no sale went through.

A few odd productions still followed, for example one noted by Du Toit (1988: p. 30) is of a locally written historical play "at considerable expense in dresses and general mounting") called The Treasure at the Woody Cape, or The Days of Ryk van Tulbach performed on 23 September 23, 1867. It had been written by the local postmaster and playwright, Alexander Wilmot, presumably a member of the club or society. In April of 1869 there is also mention of a performance of an unnamed work undertaken by the Dramatic Club in association with The Bennees, and attended by Governor Wodehouse.



F.C.L. Bosman. 1928. Drama en Toneel in Suid-Afrika, Deel I: 1652-1855. Pretoria: J.H. de Bussy. [1]: pp. 508-9

F.C.L. Bosman. 1980. Drama en Toneel in Suid-Afrika, Deel II, 1856-1912. Pretoria: J.L. van Schaik: pp.138, 182, 296-299.

P.J. du Toit. 1988. Amateurtoneel in Suid-Afrika. Pretoria: Academica: pp. 30

Jill Fletcher. 1994. The Story of Theatre in South Africa: A Guide to its History from 1780-1930. Cape Town: Vlaeberg: pp. 79-81; 93-4.

Margaret Harradine. 1994. Port Elizabeth: A Social Chronicle to the End of 1945. Port Elizabeth: E.H. Walton Packaging (Pty) Ltd.

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