Drury Lane Theatre
The Drury Lane Theatre was a theatre on Constitution Hill, Cape Town, active from 1847 till about 1851.
Built in response to the loss of the old African Theatre in March 1839, it was initially to have been be called the Royal Victoria Theatre, but eventually retained the nickname bestowed on it because of its location on Drury Lane instead. (The name Victoria Theatre was soon afterwards assumed for a while by the Dutch amateur company's venue, the Liefhebbery Tooneel.)
Initial plans for the construction of a "commodious new theatre" for use by both English and Dutch companies were mooted in the Cape Town Mail of 6 November, 1841, announcing the sale of 500 shares at £10 each, and promising a dividend of 8%. Nothing came of this plan initally, though efforts to gain investors appear to still have been in progress in 1843, and fainally, on 4 June 1845, the prospectus for the new theatre was signed and released.
In January 1846 Petrus Cauvin and John Francis Long bought shares in a piece of ground situated at the corner of Drury Lane and Constitution Streets from William White and construction commenced. It was to be constructed in such a manner that it could be turned into dwelling houses, if need should arise.
After long delays in building caused by the Border Wars, it was possibly completed in late 1846 and finally opened in 1847 or 1848. According to Jill Fletcher (1994),the theatre officially opened on June 19 1848 with the visting French Dramatic Artistes of Dalle Case, though F.C.L. Bosman (1928: p. 479) suggests it may have already have opened in 1847 with performances of the Automata by Parker's Company.
In 1848 William White , who had apparently kept some shares in (or the ownership of the theatre) for himself, put the theatre and its large collection of costumes and sets up for sale, along with his other Cape properties, as he was emigrating. The theatre was apparently then bought by L.P. Cauvin for £235.
It was never a popular venue, and although it was fairly well-used (due to a lack of alternatives), by 1850-51 it was being eclipsed in facilities and popularity by other Cape Town venues, and finally ceased functioning as a theatre venue at the end of 1851.
Performances were given inter alia by the French Dramatic Artistes, followed by Mr W.F.H. Parker and the New English Theatrical Company, who leased it for one season, to produce light dramas and operas. He in turn was followed by James Lycett and his family, who did a season, possibly Sefton Parry, Parker again (1850) and finally Albert French (May-June 1851). It was later sporadically utilized by various groups such as Tot Nut en Vermaak (1843?*-1858, according to Laidler, 1926) and Door Yver Bloeit de Kunst (1851).
Jill Fletcher. 1994. The Story of Theatre in South Africa: A Guide to its History from 1780-1930. Cape Town: Vlaeberg.
P.W. Laidler. 1926. The Annals of the Cape Stage. Edinburgh: William Bryce.
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