The name Gaiety Company was often used for theatre companies performing in South Africa during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
The notion of "Gaiety" performances
Gaiety (or in some cases "Gayety") may refer to:
Gaiety (mood), the state of being happy, light-hearted or cheerful
Gaiety (activity), lively celebration or festivities, performance activity, entertainments or amusements. Some sources refer to this as a dated use of the word.
From the latter comes the theatrical use of the term, especially in the late 19th century and early 20th century, to refer to a type of light, often vaudeville style, entertainment, the people/companies that engage in it or the venues used for such performances. Hence its use as the name given to Gaiety performances, Gaiety Companies, Gaiety Girls, Gaiety Theatres, etc. A number of such companies and theatres are still in existence today.
Several sources refer to the musical comedy In Town (Ross, Leader and Carr, 1892) as "the first Edwardian musical comedy" and even refer to it, along with A Gaiety Girl (Hall, 1893) as "the start of the Gaiety movement in theatre".
Gaiety companies in South Africa
The "Original" Gaiety Company
According to Boonzaier (1923), the first Gaiety Company (he refers to it as the "original") made its appearance in Cape Town in 1894, setting a high standard for and beginning a popular trend in musical comedy that would become a feature of South African theatre at the start of the 20th century. He appears to be referring to a company later known as the Cairns James Company, that appeared under the auspices of the Wheeler Brothers. The season predictably opened with a performance of In Town (Ross, Leader and Carr) on 9 June 1894, followed by Mam'zelle Nitouche (Meilhac and Millaud), Miss Decima (Burnand), A Gaiety Girl (Hall).
Frank de Jongh's Gaiety companies
The name Gaiety Company was most notable in the case of theatrical companies brought to Cape Town by Frank de Jongh, lessee of the Cape Town Opera House from 1896-1937. These companies consisted of well-known overseas performers and artistes, including Zena Dare, Matheson Lang, Sybil Thorndike, Lewis Casson, Irene Vanbrugh and Kate Vaughan in a variety of plays, operas and ballets.
The Edward Sass Gaiety Company
In 1895 a Gaiety Company, led by Edward Sass, performed a number of plays in the Opera House, Cape Town, under the auspices of Ben and Frank Wheeler. Other company members included James Nelson, J.H. Darnley, J.B. Gordon, Emma Glynne and Ada Logan. Their repertoire included The New Woman (Grundy), Doctor Bill (Carré /Aidé), The Case of Rebellious Susan (Jones), Liberty Hall (Dibdin), The Solicitor (Darnley), The Masqueraders (Jones), The Second Mrs Tanqueray (Pinero) and The Bauble Shop (Jones).
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